Sunday, June 18, 2017

Fanhokkåyan #5: Chamorro Soul Wound

Fanhokkåyan is my series where I share articles, writings and other documents from some of my previous websites, most notably the Kopbla Amerika/Chamorro Information Activist website and Minagahet Zine. The one I'm sharing today is an intriguing one, as it represents a piece that helped shape alot of my own perceptions as an early activist about Chamorro issues, in particular their relationship to colonial legacies. This piece, which I co-wrote with a friend of mine at the time, built off the idea of "soul wound" a theory that was first popularized in considering the contemporary place of Native Americans in relation to their historical (or continuing) trauma. It is far too easy for us to argue that we shouldn't be stuck in the past by recounting how Chamorros have been hurt by colonizers, that is a common interpassive point. In truth, we need to recount it and we need to understand it, most importantly so that we can change things today, so that we can reshape the present in ways to release ourselves from the system formed on that oppression.

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Chamorro Soul Wound
by Kopbla

Chamorus are an endangered species, and actually have been for centuries. 

Under Spanish domination Chamorus faced extinction primarily at the hands of disease and war. Historical records and estimates put the depopulation of Chamorus at the end of the 17th century, and the beginning of the 18th century at as much as 95%. The culture itself was given a traumatic shock, as Catholicism was forced down the throats and into the homes and minds of the Chamorus. But still, we survived and we persevered, assimilating and adopting what we needed to survive, refusing what we didn't need.

At the beginning of the 20th century a new threat made landfall on Guam with the arrival of US control. But this time, the assault was hardly physical, but operated on a more psychological level, attacking the natural feelings of unity and community that Chamorus have felt since ever since. The 100+ years of Americanization and US colonialism/ militarism on Guam have ravaged Chamoru identity to the point where many Chamorus are convinced of the non-existence of Chamoru culture as well as Chamorus.

The American presence and control of Guam has brought benefits, undoubtedly. Without the American takeover of Guam in 1898, Guam would propably not have the dubious honor of being  a tourist paradise and a military bastion. It probably wouldn't be one of the most modernized and consumeristic islands in the Pacific either. On the basis of short-term progress, the United States has helped immensely by "giving" Guam a government, by assisting economically, and by providing defense. Again, it cannot be denied that the US has done much for Guam. But there are many other things that must not be denied as well. 

On the most basic level, we must remember that colonialism is wrong, and a colonial relationship is an inherently unfair one and unequal one, based on exploitation. I reiterate again, that this relationship although wrong, is not without its positive bonuses. The most effective forms of control and power, are ones which produce as much as they prohibit. This is the premise that the matrix of the "Matrix" films operates on. A system of control which only prohibits, which only dominates can never be effective. The "free" world of the matrix was then created, and it works because of the illusions it uses, the myths it propagates that make the humans of the film believe they are truly free, and truly in control. 

While not nearly as dramatic, but nonetheless traumatic in its own way, on Guam we find ourselves victims to a similar fate, whether we accept it or not. The colonial "domination with benefits" relationship Guam has with the United States is the hub of the illusions that govern our daily lives. And while this itself is something which must be corrected, another dimension of the problem that is hardly realized is the psychological and cultural damage that has come from our colonization by the United States. 

In the spring 1989 issues of Ethnies, Dr. Robert Underwood chronicles the efforts of Chamorus on Guam in attempting to legitimize the teaching of Chamoru in public schools. Underwood discusses this push and analyzes it based on the philosophies and ideologies that are invoked in order to justify the move.  He mentions the "rhetoric of American cultural pluralism, "and how under this multi-cultural umbrella having an ethnic identity and still being an American is allowed. You can still speak your language, still practice your culture, be proud of your heritage and continue to be a proud American. This idea of Chamorus just becoming another thread in the beautiful American multi-cultural, multi-colored tapestry, while holding some promise, holds a far more serious danger. 

Because of our unique history, America has clouded our consciousness for more than a century. The colonization of Guam has left Chamoru ideas of value and culture fairly skewed. If we think about our day to day operations and interactions, how much does America occupy our lives? Far more than it probably should. The position of America as our colonizer has given it a status far greater than it deserves and it is not natural, but all part of a colonial process. When we examine Guam's history, this process becomes apparent and we can see it for what it is, just another form of colonialism and control, conditioning our minds into thinking within certain frameworks. Once this is known, the cracks in our own perceptions begin to show, as well as the cracks in our colonial history and consciousness. 

Take for example, an editorial published in the September 15th, 2001 Pacific Daily News by Tony Sanchez, "So what do we do? We do what America and Guam have always done. We pull together. We do our jobs better. We raise our children better. We help our neighbor more. We argue less; we compromise more. We face the stark reality of the world we live in with eyes wide open. We cannot afford to be divisive. Not today." This dependency on the rhetoric, the discourse of the US comes out in so many ways. In the above quote, we find that nearly everything positive about life is hooked into our relationship with the US. Why is it that a Chamoru alone can't raise their children right, or do their jobs better? So much of our lives and culture has been hijacked by the colonial appropriations. And often times it is so subtle we don't even realize what we've said, what we've done or what we've believed.

The idea of "privatization" of GovGuam is one form in this which is acted out, whereby the process of overvaluing of the US at the expense of ourselves becomes apparent.  It is not that privatization has no merit, or is wrong, but what we need to look at, is the demeaning way we degrade ourselves in asking for it, demanding it, or discussing it. The very public and vocal push for privatization is no doubt a symptom of a colonial disease Chamorus on Guam have been infected with for more than a century; chronic romantic dreams of America. As Congressman Robert Underwood has put it many times, Guam and the other US territories are the only places in the United States that ever call for "federalization," or for "calling in the feds" to undermine local power, authority and dignity.  

The American dream in the form of our conscious reality  hangs over our heads as this pristine ideal, that we must live up to, or that we must emulate. Our government, our culture, our way of life are seen as inferior to our American role models. But this is one way in which colonialism works, by creating Manichean, or black/white oppositions, and creating in the colonized the perception that while they belong to the inferior side of the spectrum (the black side), they must desire what is on the superior side, or the white side. And this cultural inferiority complex has led many Chamorus to downplay the importance of their own culture, forsake their language, leave the island in search for a "better life" in the US. 

This is all not to say that a Chamoru cannot have an American passport, or have indoor plumbing, or go to movie theatres. Cultures change, they stay the same, they preserve and they adapt, that is their natural flow (anyone who believes in constantly evolving cultures or constantly static cultures, is only describing the half of the equation which proves their point). In the past couple centuries however, issues of purity in blood and culture have become means by which Chamoru sentiments can be controlled or dispelled. But those feelings were hardly given a second thought on Guam prior to 1898, as Chamoru culture was seen as something that went beyond blood, into feelings of community, unity, respect and care for the island, the land or your family. Any percentage of blood guaranteed you a spot in the family, so long as your mind was rooted in the community, the family (this doesn't mean it was a utopia or paradise, but just that issues of ethnicity weren't so complicated). From Loincloth Envy, by Michael Lujan Bevacqua: 

...the beauty of Chamoru culture as
This wonderfully inclusive exclusive
Where membership is not mired in tired issues of blood quantum quantities
But has something more to do with commitment to culture
Devotion to the island and its people
Respect for each other and the land language love life that binds us together

The presence of America here, has greatly disrupted that sense of identity, by usurping the core being of Chamorus, and replacing their mental presence here, with a desire, a longing for the states, or for the promise of the states. This would be fine if Guam was part of the United States, or had achieved some serious level of equality with their Mother Country. But a central issue here, which cannot be forgotten or denied, is that Chamorus are not truly part of America, especially if they remain on Guam. And the relinquishing of your identity, your offering of it to America on a silver platter, means an acceptance of the inferior status that we have been given. If Chamorus were granted their rights to self-determination as well as self-government, then this shift wouldn't be nearly as polemic, but because it comes with a heavy dose of colonialism it is something we must constantly critique. 

Chamorus have adopted much of America into their culture and we must remember that this is natural for cultures to adapt and to change, but when the identity of a culture comes into question, that is when we must re-examine everything.  

What is also important to note here, is the way in which the cultural argument is used against Chamorus, used against any colonized people. Cultures are naturally both fluid and static, constantly changing, but constantly resisting change as well. For indigenous cultures however, and in particular those under colonial control, the idea of cultural change becomes a hotly contested issue, particularly for those who protect the interests of the colonial power.  For Chamorus, the dynamic has always depended on obedience to America. So long as Chamorus remain loyal and silent and serve American interests, they are externally and internally portrayed as a people with a rich and wonderful culture, with a rich and wonderful history.  But the moment they begin to construct themselves, or see themselves as something other than American, or separate from America, they become a bastard race, an impure culture, they become non-existent. Their very Chamoruness comes into question, the moment they think of themselves as Chamorus first, and American second, or any other context in which the supposedly inferior side of the equation is put as greater than the supposedly superior side. Another form of control comes with ideas of culture as being static. Chamorros themselves are plagued with perceptions of their culture as being more pure, or more Chamoru at some other point in their history, but never in the present. Whether 400 years ago, or prior to World War II, the perception is that the "real" Chamoru culture existed somewhere back there, and what we are stuck with at present is either tainted and hardly Chamoru or not Chamoru at all. 

What this all alludes to is a dire need for us as a people to stop importing ideologies or ideas about culture and about Chamoru, and begin take control of our history, discourse and ideas once again. We are not an inferior people, nor are we an immature people, we never have been. Those discourses are just ways of controlling us. America and Americana can be so oppressive in such completely undiscussed ways, we don't even know how to describe the oppression adequately. Sometimes pieces simply don't fit, and all that's left is a feeling of intense or lingering incompleteness. But on Guam, how do we discuss these things? How do we discuss ideas of oppression when we are oppressed by a country which loudly proclaims to all who will and won't listen that it is the champion of democracy? How do we reconcile all these contradictions? There are no simple answers for such questions... 

Mensåhi Ginen i Gehilo' #25: Hagåtña, 1899

I'm working on an exhibit for Humanities Guåhan, and its put me back into researcher/scholar mode. I've been pouring through books and reports for the past week looking for various bits and pieces of information. Part of this meant re-reading some books and archival documents I hadn't touched in over a decade. Given the way in which conversations over decolonization and self-government have begun to take on a new character lately, I was particularly attracted to passages that can help me or others reflect on our development over time, how far Chamorros and Guam may have come, or haven't, especially in the context of their political connection to the US.

There are many ways that we can say that Guam has changed over the past 500 years or over the past 100 years. As we remain in the era of American colonialism, I am mostly concerned with the impact of the US and its policies. As I have written about in a variety of ways, these changes are tangible and very real, but also amount to a shifting of the surface of the political relationship between Guam and its colonizer. The island is not ruled over by Naval commanders anymore. Chamorros have at least the semblance of everyday rights unlike in the past. But the basic legal decisions and policies are still in place, they haven't changed. That is why it is so ridiculous that as a territory, we invest our energy in pretending that we are just like any other part of the United States, rather than learning about our real position, so that we have a basic ability to understand it and possibly change it.

In 1899, Chamorros sat on the edge of a new era of their history. After hundreds of years of largely being shut out of the governing of their island, the old colonizer was leaving and a new, ambitious one, that seemed to smell of freedom and new opportunities was arriving. Chamorros would debate at the time over whether it would have been better to stay under the Spanish or eagerly accept the new colonizer. The rhetoric of the US, its branding as being a place of democracy and liberty found its way into the debate, although it soon proved laughable, as the US didn't bring either democracy or liberty to Guam, but instead five decades of military government.

Below is a list of Chamorros who were employed by that US Naval government when it was first established in 1899. They represented a generation that hoped that their people would have new opportunities under the new regime and for some became far more patriotically attached to the new master than most of their brethren. Their patriotism wouldn't be repaid in their own lifetimes, as Chamorros only received a modicum of self-government after World War II. But the larger vision of Chamorros gaining respect and a chance at real self-government still has yet to be realized.

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Atanasio Perez, official translator
Nicolas Lazaro, record keeper
Lorenzo Franquez (town crier), captain of the militia
Pedro Namauleg, leper hospital assistant
Juan de Torres, paymaster
Joaquin Diaz, chief clerk
Manual Untalan, clerk
Demetrio Quitugua, Agaña city clerk
Vicente Camacho, assistant registrar
Juan del Rosario, Agaña jailer

Friday, June 16, 2017

Decolonization in the Caribbean #17: Militarization and Decolonization

At this year's Regional Seminar for the Committee of 24 in St. Vincent and the Grenadines, attendees were treated to two presentations by experts on decolonization from the UN perspective. I'll discuss both presentations through my "Decolonization in the Caribbean" posts, but today I wanted to focus on the remarks from Dr. Carlyle Corbin, from the US Virgin Islands, who is a longtime ally with Guam and the Chamorro people in their struggle for self-determination.

He offered a number of recommendations that the Committee could take up in terms of moving ahead with its mission of eradicating colonialism from the world and assisting the remaining non-self-governing territories. What is refreshing in terms of the seminar overall is the way it mixes scholars and experts with diplomats or government reps. The debate or discussions between country representatives and committee members tends to move in familiar and sometimes frustrating directions. Regardless of what is the substance of the seminar, certain countries tend to make the same points every year, only changing things as their diplomatic relationships change. This means that certain non-self-governing territories get a great deal of attention, usually because of the way sovereign control or rights between nations is being contested, but others are mentioned, are afforded a minute amount of space and then quickly cast aside.

This year there was a bit of urgency in finding some way to break the deadlock over decolonization, where not a single colony has been formally moved to self-government in close to two decades (the last being Timor Leste). At each seminar the experts offer innovative means of accomplishing this, but it is usually lost in the shuffle of diplomatic sparing or posturing.

A case in point this year was with Carlyle's intervention, which addressed a number of problematic issues that are taking place in the non-self-governing territories, which the UN and the C24 should have an interest in, but have long left unattended. The one which has always been an issue in the case of Guam, but is rarely attended to, is the issue of the US militarization or increasing of its military presence in its colonies. The UN resolutions have been very clear since the 1960s, that those who have colonies must not allow excess immigration of militarization to their possessions, as these policies will most likely become severe detriments to decolonization. In Guam, we can see this quite clearly, both in terms of Chamorros becoming a minority, where the US uses the impact of its own policies to justify the erasure of Chamorro rights, and also the increased strategic value, which becomes its own reason not to allow any political status change to the island.

I wrote about this last year in my Guam Daily Post column after a series of discussions in the Commission on Decolonization went nowhere in this very point. International conventions on this issue are clear, but locally it is not something people wish to discuss because of the way it may appear to be anti-American or not patriotic. Internationally other countries don't want to address it because of the way it may inhibit their own ability to militarize their territories or the way it may put them in the cross-hairs of the US diplomatically. But it is still a very important point that must be made repeatedly, as it is not something in the past that cannot be changed. It is something that continues to happen, a convention meant to protect the colonized people of the world, in this case the Chamorros, but is continually ignored.

I've pasted my column here for you to read. 

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“To Militarize, or to Decolonize?”
by Michael Lujan Bevacqua
June 1, 2016
The Guam Daily Post

On August 28, 2015 the Department of Defense signed the Record of Decision (ROD) for their proposed military buildup to Guam. The military buildup and its impact on Guam has long been a topic of public debate. What has often been lost in the discussion of socioeconomic and environmental impacts is what effect a military increase of this magnitude may have on the Chamorro quest for self-determination and the decolonization of Guam.

Since 2011 I have been a member of the Commission on Decolonization, and although many people might think of issues of self-determination and military increases as being separate, we should think of them as being more closely connected. The overall mission of the Commission on Decolonization is to educate the island community on issues of political status, in particular related to the holding of a political status plebiscite in which those who are legally qualified will vote on one of three future political statuses for Guam (integration, free association or independence). But how does our value as a base affect the willingness or unwillingness of our colonizer to support us in our decolonization?  

The position of the United Nations on this issue has always been clear, but is scarcely reported locally. In its resolutions, military increases or strategic military importance should not be considered as reason to not decolonize territories, but this is generally used as an excuse to delay or deny action. We can find this point made in their numerous resolutions on the Question of Guam, such as this one from 1984:

The General Assembly of the United Nations “Reaffirms its strong conviction that the presence of military bases and installations in the Territory  [of Guam] could constitute a major obstacle to the implementation of the Declaration and that it is the responsibility of the administering Power to ensure that the existence of such bases and installations does not hinder the population of the Territory from exercising its right to self- determination and independence in conformity with the purposes and principles of the Charter of the United Nations.”

UN Resolution 1514 (X/V) in 1960 called upon all colonial powers to assist their colonial possessions in moving towards decolonization. It does not mention specifically military bases or military training. But by 1964 the United Nations had begun to notice that in non-self-governing territories like Guam, the colonial power’s military controlled a great deal of resources and had a great deal of sway over the destiny of the colonies. Since 1965 the United Nations has approved numerous resolutions calling upon all colonial powers (including the United States) to withdraw their military bases as they represent series obstacles to the exercising of self-determination by colonized peoples.

Bases help to enable to colonial power to see an island like Guam, not as a place in need of decolonization and redress, but as a strategically valuable piece of real estate, one necessary for the projection of military force and the maintaining of its geopolitical interests. Military facilities help colonial powers to deemphasize the inalienable human rights of colonized peoples and instead focus on the instrumentality and necessity of controlling their lands. The expansion of bases and the establishing of new training areas as outlined in the ROD is precisely the type of increased military presence the United Nations has long cautioned against. The United Nations has also cautioned countries like the United States from using their colonies in offensive wars or actions against other nations as this could potentially make enemies on behalf of the colony when it achieves decolonization. To illustrate this point the more that Guam is used for American military saber rattling in the Asia-Pacific region, the more it becomes a target for enemies of the United States today and should it ever achieve another political status.

The Department of Defense is aware of this concern and has acknowledged the potential for their military buildup to affect certain Chamorro issues or concerns, such as decolonization in their military buildup environmental impact studies. But as with most concerns related to the United Nations and decolonization they have chosen to wash their hands of this and argue they have no responsibility or obligation in the matter.

For those who think these matters are separate or that one doesn’t affect the other, that simply isn’t true. Our strategic military value to the United States has long affected what we can and cannot get from the United States. For decades the members of the Trust Territory of Micronesia negotiated with the United States, a process that led to the formation of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and three nation-states that have seats at the United Nations: the Republic of Belau (Palau), the Republic of the Marshall Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia. The United States did not allow Guam to participate in similar negotiations as its strategic value to the United States as a base, has consistently led to a denial of this basic human right.

Thursday, June 15, 2017

Gaige Yu' Giya Hong Kong

Gaige yu' giya Hong Kong para este na simåna.

Guaha konferensia guini, ya hami yan si Isa para bei in fama'nu'i.

Bai hu fannge' siempre put i hinanao-hu.


Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Lumi'of Yu'


Lumi’of yu’ gi tasi
Tahdong, tahdongña ki hu hongge
Mañodda’ yu’ tahgong
Gi sen manengheng na unai
Annai hu chule’ gui’ hulo’ para i sakmån-hu
Hu pega gui’ kontra i talanga’-hu
I fetgon pinachå-ña mamesña ki hu hongge
Ya hu hungok
Kumunananaf hulo’ i kantå-mu
A’gangña ki i hesguan binibon tåsi
Tinektoktok ni’ pappa’ påkyo’
Ya hu tungo’ na gaisiente este na kånta
Tahdongña ki hu hongge

Dumesnik hao gi me’nå-hu
Ma’lakña ki i langhet
Mañiñila ni’ mit chålan na puti’on

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I dove into the ocean
Deep, deeper than I believed
I found a shell
In the freezing cold sand
And when I took it back up to my canoe
I placed it against my ear
The wet touch sweeter than I believed
And I heard
Your song crawling up
Louder than the jealous fury of the ocean
Embraced by the wings of a storm
And I know that this song has feeling
Deeper than I believed

You appeared before me
Brighter than the sky
Illuminated by a thousand thousand stars


Saturday, June 10, 2017

Decolonization in the Pacific #16: Free At Last

In the middle of this year's regional seminar of the UN C24, the proceedings stopped briefly in order to recognize the release of Oscar Lopez Rivera, a long-time Puerto Rican political prisoner. Rivera was part of the Puerto Rican independence group named FALN, which was involved in more than 100 bombings around the US during the 1970s. He was convicted of seditious conspiracy along with other crimes and spent 35 years in prison. Rivera has been mentioned each year I have attended the regional seminar, as some Latin American countries feel a strong sense of solidarity with Puerto Rico and its independence activists, and therefore consider his case to be that of a political prisoner or a prisoner of war, who should have been subject to international court proceedings, as he was fighting for the liberation of Puerto Rico from US colonial control.

Vilma Reveron, who frequently attends the seminars to discuss the state of affairs in Puerto Rico made the announcement and held up her laptop on which was an image of Rivera after being freed. The seminar attendees all rose and cheered his release.

Below is the interview he did earlier this week with Democracy Now!

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After 35 years of Prison, Puerto Rican Activist Oscar Lopez Rivera on Freedom and Decolonization
June 8, 2017
Democracy Now!

We are joined in studio by longtime Puerto Rican independence activist Oscar López Rivera, who was imprisoned for about 35 years—much of the time in solitary confinement—before President Obama commuted his sentence in January. On May 17, 2017, less than a month ago, López Rivera was released. During the 1970s and 1980s, he was a leader of the pro-independence group FALN. In 1981, López Rivera was convicted on federal charges including seditious conspiracy—conspiring to oppose U.S. authority over Puerto Rico by force. López Rivera describes his time in prison, his youth in Chicago and how he became politicized. He also comments on Puerto Rico’s current political crisis and says as long as Puerto Rican youth are "struggling and doing something for the economy, doing something for themselves, doing something for Puerto Rico, there is hope." We also speak with Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice, who was part of the campaign to free López Rivera.
Transcript
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
 
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Today we spend the hour with longtime Puerto Rican independence activist Oscar López Rivera, who was in prison for more than 35 years, much of the time in solitary confinement, before President Obama commuted his sentence in January. On May 17th, 2017, less than a month ago, López Rivera was released. Today he joins us in our New York studio.

Oscar López Rivera was born in San Sebastián, Puerto Rico, and moved with his family to Chicago when he was a boy. He was drafted into the Army at age 18 and served in Vietnam, for which he was awarded the Bronze Star. Upon his return in 1967, he became a community organizer who fought for bilingual education, jobs and better housing.

During the 1970s and 1980s, he was a leader of the pro-independence group FALN, the armed liberation—the Forces of Armed National Liberation. Its members set more than a hundred bombs, including one attack on Fraunces Tavern in New York City that killed four people. He was never charged, however, with setting those bombs. Instead, in 1981, López Rivera was convicted on federal charges that included seditious conspiracy—conspiring to oppose U.S. authority over Puerto Rico by force. In fact, seditious conspiracy is the same charge Nelson Mandela faced. López Rivera described his charges in a rare prison interview in 2006.
OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: I think that the fact that I was charged with seditious conspiracy to overthrow the government of the United States speaks for itself. But the charge in reference to Puerto Ricans has always been used for political purposes. It goes back to 1936. The first time that a group of Puerto Ricans was put in prison was by using the seditious conspiracy charge. And this is—has always been a strictly political charge used against Puerto Ricans.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In 1999, President Bill Clinton commuted the sentences of 16 members of the FALN, but López Rivera refused at that time to accept the deal because it did not include two fellow activists, who have since been released.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Oscar López Rivera’s first visit to New York City since his release last month, and it coincides with New York’s long-standing Puerto Rican Day Parade, which always takes place on the second Sunday of June. This year’s organizers chose to honor López Rivera as the parade’s first "National Freedom Hero." This prompted the city’s police chief and a number of corporate sponsors to boycott the event, including Goya Foods, Coca-Cola, Univision and Telemundo. As Juan reported in his column for the New York Daily News, a boycott campaign to condemn López Rivera as a terrorist "was quietly organized by a right-wing conservative group in Washington, D.C., the Media Research Center, that receives major funding from donors close to both President Trump and to Breitbart News," unquote. Well, Oscar López Rivera says he will still march, but not as an official honoree, simply as a humble Puerto Rican and grandfather.

Over the years, one of Oscar López Rivera’s strongest supporters has been Archbishop Desmond Tutu. On Wednesday, Tutu issued a statement in support of his participation in the parade, noting, quote, "Had South Africans and people of the African diaspora allowed others to determine who we would embrace, Mandela would still be in prison and have been stripped of the stature we gave him and that he deserved," unquote.

All of this comes as Puerto Rico is in the midst of a bankruptcy process and is preparing to hold a referendum on its political future on Sunday—the same day as the parade.

For more, we’re joined in studio by Oscar López Rivera. While in prison, he wrote two books, Between Torture and Resistance and Letters to Karina. We’re also joined by Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Oscar López Rivera, how does it feel to be free?

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: It feels wonderful. It feels completely, completely different than being in prison. For the first time, I can hear the roosters sing early in the morning. I can see—I can see my family. I can see my friends. I can see my granddaughter. I recently went to California just to spend a few days with her. I can move around Puerto Rico. So it feels wonderful. It feels a world completely, completely different than the world of prisons.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And all of these years that you were not only in prison, but in solitary for a good portion of that time, I’m wondering: Did you have an expectation that you would eventually be freed? And was it a surprise when, in early—early this year, you finally got the word that President Obama had commuted your sentence?

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: Well, one of the things that I never allowed myself to do was to fall into what I call illusory optimism. You know, so I tried my best to keep my hope that I will come out of prison, but at the same time prepare for the worst. So, on May—on January 17th, when President Obama commuted my sentence and I was told that my sentence had been commuted, my reaction was not one that was expected, because I was prepared for the worst. And it took me about four days to really, really realize that I was on my way out of prison. But it was not a very, very exciting moment when I was told that President Obama had commuted my sentence.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, this wasn’t the first commutation. I mean, Bill Clinton also did this, along with a number of your compatriots—right?—16 Puerto Rican independence activists. But you chose not to leave at that time. You could have left more than a decade ago, two decades ago.

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: Well, I believe in principles, and I have never left anyone behind, whether it was in Vietnam, whether it was in the city of Chicago, whether it was in Puerto Rico. And for me, it was important to stay in prison while two of my co-defendants were in prison. Both of them came out by 2010. Both of them were out of prison. And finally, on May 17th, I was finally, finally out of prison. The sentence was commuted the 17th of January, but I had to be under home confinement until May 17th. So, it was May 17th when I started to walk on the streets of Puerto Rico and to enjoy Puerto Rico.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Juan Cartagena, I wanted to ask you about the campaign to free Oscar López Rivera, because it really included the—a cross-section of all political persuasions, religious groups in Puerto Rico, and it lasted for a long time. I remember when we were covering the Democratic convention in Philadelphia, there was a very strong contingent from Chicago and other cities that had come to demonstrate at the Democratic convention about the issue of finally freeing him. Your sense of the importance of that campaign?

JUAN CARTAGENA: Oh, critically important. Many of us thought that one last hope would have been the Obama administration. Like we were hoping for a long time that the president, Obama, would actually commute his sentence. We were—I was following how President Obama was eulogizing Nelson Mandela when he went to the wake in South Africa, talking about how, by freeing Mandela, the system also freed itself. And in many ways, we kept—I kept using that, and others kept using that kind of quote.

We also recognized that this—this incredible unity that happened in Puerto Rico is hardly ever seen that many times, right? In my own lifetime, I’ve seen it around Vieques. But rarely have we seen so many political parties, so many faith, union members and activists of all persuasions, of all types, really line up to make sure that Oscar López Rivera was freed, and, you know, have the happiness, the joy and the pride that we have that we finally we were able to achieve that, because, as he said, he’s a man of principle, and to work on behalf of a man of principle has always been an honor.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to our discussion with Juan Cartagena, who’s president and general counsel of LatinoJustice, and with Oscar López Rivera, Puerto Rican independence activist, freed last month after serving 35 years in prison. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: "From a Bird the Two Wings" by Pablo Milanés, here on Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Our guest is Oscar López Rivera, Puerto Rican independence activist, freed last month after serving 35 years in prison. We’re also joined by Juan Cartagena, president and general counsel of LatinoJustice. This is the time here in New York City that the Puerto Rican Day Parade is taking place on Sunday. It is also the day, Sunday, that the Puerto Rican referendum will take place in Puerto Rico. Juan?

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, Oscar, I’d like to ask you about how you see Puerto Rico now, having come out of prison. The last time you were there was over 35 years ago, and now you’re seeing a situation with total economic collapse and bankruptcy, an imposed control board by Congress. What do you see as the situation on the island right now and how it could possibly get out of its enormous crisis?

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: Puerto Rico is suffering an enormous crisis. Puerto Rico, as I see it, has been set up in a way that there is no way for Puerto Rico to lift itself up economically. First of all, the junta de fiscal control, fiscal control board, has already spent a lot of money without offering Puerto Rico any—any remedy to resolve its economic problem. What it has done thus far is extract money from programs such as the University of Puerto Rico, such as the public education system and other—pensions from workers, that will definitely, definitely make Puerto Rico’s economy worse, much worse than it was last year or the year before. And Puerto Rico cannot—cannot pay that debt. It’s impossible for Puerto Rico to pay a debt, except if every dollar, every last dollar, that the Puerto Rican worker has in his pocket is taken out of his pocket. That is the reality from the economic point of view.

Besides that, we have a government in Puerto Rico, a colonial government in Puerto Rico, that has no way—offer any incentives to the Puerto Rican people. On the contrary, it offers incentives to foreigners to invest in Puerto Rico. Whoever—whoever invests in Puerto Rico is not a Puerto Rican. What happens is that the money that is made in Puerto Rico is taken out of Puerto Rico. That money does not stay in Puerto Rico. It does not help the economy of Puerto Rico. So, my way of looking at it is, Puerto Rico is in trouble economically, and the junta de control fiscal, the control board, that is imposed or has been imposed on Puerto Rico, is really a detrimental—I will dare say, a criminal—act on the Puerto Rican people.

Now, there other things in Puerto Rico that I see being positive. For example, I see the students at the university struggling. I see the university—the students at the university trying to do something to preserve or at least protect the university. That is positive. The youth, the Puerto Rican youth, represent the future of Puerto Rico. And as long as they are struggling and doing something for the economy, doing something for themselves, doing something for Puerto Rico, there is hope.

There is also one—another element that I see. Puerto Rico, as has been mentioned, is going into or is celebrating a plebiscite, another—another colonial act. And to justify what? Puerto Rico is not going to become a state, definitely not. And only one political party in Puerto Rico is going on this plebiscite, is participating in this plebiscite. The rest of Puerto Rico is boycotting the plebiscite. That money, $10 million that will be spent on the plebiscite, could go into at least the education system. We could preserve some of those schools that are being closed. A hundred and sixty-nine public schools are going to be closed. Why not use that money to help those schools? That will be one of the questions that I will ask the governor of Puerto Rico right now. He has been asked. He has no answers.

AMY GOODMAN: I was wondering if we can go back in time to your history, what politicized you, where you were born, how you came to head up the FALN, and then your 35 years in prison, how you survived there?

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: Well, I was born in a very small farm in Puerto Rico. At age 14, I was sent to Chicago to live with my sister. I entered high school. I’m going to make a little story here, so you will probably see my politics.

When I was in high school in Chicago, the teacher asked the students to define a hero and why that person was a hero. So, I had been—when I entered elementary school in Puerto Rico at age 5, every day we would sing a song that would say George Washington was to be celebrated because he never, never said a lie. OK, so on that particular day, I said that George Washington was my hero, because he had never, never said a lie. And the students started laughing. I thought it was because of my English accent. When I stepped—when the class was over, a fellow student pulled me to the side, and he said, "Don’t you know that George Washington was a liar? You shouldn’t have said that." So, indoctrination was taking place in Puerto Rico in a very sophisticated, subtle way. I was deeply and profoundly, profoundly indoctrinated into believing that Puerto Rico could never be an independent country, that Puerto Rico could not be self-sufficient, that we will starve to death if the United States will walk out of Puerto Rico. That’s how I was influenced for the first 14 years in my life.

Then, in Chicago, I found myself facing things that I had never thought I would face—for example, discrimination for the first time, finding racism for the first time, a real, real blatant racism, and discrimination when I was trying to find a job. In the military, I also found the same, same practice. Yeah, there was racism. There was discrimination. So, when I came back home from Vietnam—and for some reason, Vietnam changed my way of life, my way of thinking. I came back from Vietnam, and I found myself obligated to find out what was the reason for being for the war in Vietnam. I found myself more sympathetic with the Vietnamese people than I thought that I would ever be. And little by little, I was starting to discover what Vietnam had done. For example, I discovered Dien Bien Phu, how the Vietnamese fought against the French, how they decolonized themselves. I came back to Chicago, and I found a community of Puerto—

AMY GOODMAN: You got a Bronze Star when you were there.

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: I got a Bronze Star for that.

AMY GOODMAN: What was your brother doing during this time?

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: Who?

AMY GOODMAN: Your brother.

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: My brother? My brother was studying. But when I came back from Vietnam, I found a community, a Puerto Rican community, that was beginning to wake up, to demand to be seen, to be heard, to transcend its marginalization. And I started organizing in the community. At that time, the Young Lords were coming up out of Chicago. It was a street gang that became political. A lot of things were happening in 1967. For example, it was 1967 when Dr. Martin Luther King pronounced himself against the war in Vietnam and called it a criminal war. 1967 was when Muhammad Ali refused to be drafted. And he paid a big price.

And 1967 was the first time that I was invited by a nationalist, a Puerto Rican nationalist, to go to his house and listen to some tapes of the nationalists. And one of the tapes—one of the tapes was Lolita Lebrón, who had gone to Washington the 1st of March, 1954. And she said in that interview that she came to Washington not to kill anyone, but to give her life for Puerto Rico. And when I heard that woman say that, I was amazed. I was amazed. And from that moment on, we started working on the campaign to free the five. There were five Puerto Rican political prisoners. And from 1967 on, in Chicago, we started to organize a campaign for their release. By that time, Lolita Lebrón, Irvin Flores, Andres Figueroa Cordero, Rafael Cancel Miranda had been in prison for 13 years, and and Oscar Collazo López had been in prison for 17 years. And we believed that we should do something to win their release. And finally, in 1979, they were released from prison.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I wanted to ask you, when you were in Chicago, you helped to start a school, didn’t you, in Chicago, that did—do I have it right? Luis Gutiérrez was a student at that school?

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: No, Luis Gutiérrez was a tutor at the school.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Oh, tutor.

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: The now congressman.

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: Yes, yes. In 1972, we started an alternative high school for high school dropouts. I have been involved in the issue of education since 1967. We fought to get schools built in the community. We fought to bring bilingual education into the schools. We fought to open up the doors at the universities, especially University of Illinois Chicago Circle and Northeastern, universities where programs were implemented to allow Latino students, because it was not only Puerto Ricans, we were also involved in helping the Latino population in general. So, those programs still exist, the programs at University of Illinois, the program at Northeastern University and our high school. Our high school is a really, really, really interesting project. It was based on Paulo Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed. And we were hoping that we would get dropouts, put them through a very rigorous educational system, and do it without any funds. What we did, we asked college professors to give us three hours for a class. And we—the students that were at the university, that we had helped to get into the university, we asked them to be tutors. And that’s how Congressman Gutiérrez got to be a tutor at the high school.

AMY GOODMAN: So talk about going to prison and what it meant for you in prison. You were in solitary confinement for over 12 years?

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: I was in solitary confinement for 12 years, four months. And first, from 1986, June 1986, in Marion, USP Marion in Illinois, up ’til 1994, and then, from 1994 to November 1996 in ADX. In ADX, for the first 58 days, I was awakened every half-hour, 58 days straight. So that will give you an idea what it is to be in prison, to be under those conditions.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I wanted to ask you, in terms of the reasons for your being in prison, I mean, clearly, the big narrative that you’re seeing in the commercial media is this was a terrorist, this is a person who’s unrepentant, this is a person who never should be allowed to be out free again, is certainly not celebrated as a hero. The issue of the FALN’s campaign of bombings that occurred in that period of of time, your retrospectively looking back at that, how you view that campaign and how you feel about it now, and also the criticisms that some people have that you—that the organization participated in the killing of many innocent people?

OSCAR LÓPEZ RIVERA: First of all, yeah, I want to make this point clear. I have never—for me, human life is precious. I was in Vietnam. I hope and I pray that I never—I never killed anyone. Now, we know. We know. But if you’re a soldier, you know when you have shot somebody, because there is a field of range that you’re covering. And on my path, I never saw anyone being wounded or killed. So, I can say that I came home from Vietnam without blood on my hands. I hope so. For me, the issue of human life, human life is precious. Now, I’ve been asked over and over about the bombings. I’ve been asked over and over what took place. I can guarantee one thing: that I have never participated in an act where a human life—where we knew that a human life was going to be put in jeopardy. OK?
Now, one thing that I want to make a very, very clear: Puerto Rico—Puerto Rico, as a colony, has every right—every right—to its independence. To its independence, it has every right. And by international law, Puerto Rico—Puerto Rico can use—Puerto Ricans who want to decolonize Puerto Rico can use all the means at their disposal, including the use of force. I’m not advocating for that. Let’s make that clear. By 1992, by 1992, all of us who were in prison had taken a position that we will not—we will not promote violence, that we will not—we were not going to be active in violence. In 1999, mostly all my co-defendants were released. Up to this time, up to this time, almost 20 years later, there has not been a minute, not a single act, a criminal or any kind of violation committed by my co-defendants. That really should be the measuring point for anything. That should be the way that we should be seen. We left prison. We committed ourselves not to act violently. And thus far, no one can accuse us of doing so.

Now, had there been any evidence against any of us—any of us—I guarantee you that I wouldn’t be here today, because the federal judge, the federal judge we faced, he told us that if the law would allow it, he would sentence all of us to death, if the law would allow it. And that sometimes—that narrative is never talked about. But there’s a narrative. There’s a narrative. Colonialism is a crime against humanity. We have to be clear on that. And Puerto Ricans—Puerto Ricans, to tolerate colonialism, we are tolerating a crime. So, I think that it’s important to understand that we love Puerto Rico. I love my homeland. That’s my homeland. That’s my promised land. And the way I see it is that we have to decolonize Puerto Rico. Now, the issue of violence is no longer one that we will ever entertain or that we’ll ever promote. And let’s be clear on that, because I think that it’s important for people to know who we are, who we are as people, as human beings, because we love—we love our homeland. We also—we also love justice and freedom for the whole world.
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Friday, June 09, 2017

Mensåhi Ginen i Gehilo' #24: The Old Man and Decolonization


In December of last year, I met with a friend for breakfast at Shirley's in Hagåtña. The central topic of our meeting with current pushes for Guam's decolonization. This breakfast was happening at the start of a two-week period of activity around educating the island around the issue.

The Commission on Decolonization and the Office of the Governor was about to start a series of three village meetings to help educate the island community about political status change. After not meeting since July, the Commission itself was set to meet earlier that week. Through my own political status task force, the Independence for Guåhan Task Force, we started a podcast series named Fanachu! and also held one of our monthly General Assembly meetings.

Despite the flurry of recent activity around the issue, my friend wasn’t convinced that anything had really changed. That all of these activities whether they be teach-ins, coffee shop conversations, debates or forums were all sermons for the converted. It was only reaching those who already cared about the issue, whether they be crazy activists or radical idealistic youth. I disagreed with this assessment, even if I could acknowledge there was some truth to it.

I provided a number of examples to show him that things were definitely changing or at least shifting in directions they hadn’t before, especially in terms of people being more open to my preferred political status, independence. I mentioned the decolonization debate held earlier this year at Tiyan High School where 34% of 800 youth polled chose independence. During the political season, in questionnaires for senatorial candidates, more then half expressed either an openness for independence a Guam’s next status or outright support for it. Both of things were previously unimaginable to most people on island. Even just last November, when most of the island was shocked to see Donald Trump win the Electoral College vote (although lose the popular vote by almost 3 million), rather than talk about moving to Canada, I tracked hundreds of posts on social media musing over Guam becoming independent given the new possibly dangerous direction the United States is heading. While not all may be hard-core independence supporters, it shows a clear shift in how a part of the island imagines possibility.

None of these things seemed to dissuade my friend. Not even the conversations that spilled into our conversations seemed to make a dent in his opinion. As we ate breakfast and talked, a half a dozen people stopped by to ask me questions. One was about recreational marijuana if Guam became independent. One was about why the Statehood Task Force isn’t doing more in the media. One was about student aid. Another was about possible cuts to social welfare programs from the states under Trump. It was interesting that even after this random assortment of people approached our table to ask me questions about decolonization, this wasn’t counted as evidence to indicate that people want to know more about this issue.

The last visitor to the table was the one that changed my friend’s mind. It was an elderly Chamorro man, who had spent most of his life in the US military. He approached the table in a way and with a particular type of visage that made me brace for a potential typhoon of angry accusations about me being anti-American or anti-military. Instead he politely asked to sit down and once he did, he thanked me.

He told me about his background, spending most of his life in uniform serving all over the world, including during the Vietnam War.  He listed off the countries he was stationed in and said that I had changed the way he viewed his entire life and that he was angry because looking back it felt wasted. He explained that when he visited other countries he would always look down on them because they weren’t as advanced as the United States. But he never made the connection to Guam being a possession and the Chamorro people being colonized. If he had, he would have understood that those people would have looked down on him if they had known he came from a Pacific Island colony. That they elected their real leaders, they fought for the real direction of their country, not like Guam that is just a pet on a leash of the Feds and forced to follow them around.

He said that if he had met me when he was younger and I said Guam could be independent he would have punched me out. He would have said I’ve been around the world and seen how bad it is out there and why would we want to end up like that? As he was leaving he said, he felt bad now, because he’s an old man, too old to travel, but instead of looking down now, he would want to visit those countries again and learn from them, get help from them so that Guam could find its own way.

Even my friend, with his insistent resistance could not argue with that. Things are changing and the minds of both young and old are opening up. It is crucial that we continue the education as we move ahead towards decolonization.

Sunday, June 04, 2017

Decolonization in the Caribbean #15: Solidarity Lessons

For places like Guam that lack a formal place within the international system and to an extent the national system of the US, solidarity is of critical importance. Without a formal place, you are invisible or you direct power over the structure around you. There was ways that you can fight for power, that you can seize it, but solidarity is an important part of changing your invisibility or your lack of visibility and therefore lack of relevance of standing, into something different, something more strategic. As the movement for decolonization and independence grows in Guam, it is important that we find ways to connect it to other potentially similar movements, which can offer lessons or inspirations on the way forward. This was the case in the past, where members of Nasion Chamoru achieved a greater sense of their place in the world through interacting with people who were members of Black and Brown Power movements in the US, and also from postwar elite Chamorros who felt affinity with African Americans who they saw struggle against segregation and racism.

My last two appearances at the UN C24 Regional Seminar have reminded me of the importance of solidarity. For those of us who remain colonies, non-self-governing territories, we are often forgotten about or ignored by much of the world, including our own colonizers. But solidarity can be difficult as our experiences are so diverse and the geographic distance mirrors historical, cultural and political differences between these 17 colonies spread across the Pacific, the Caribbean and the Atlantic. Most people on Guam have no idea where the Turks and Caicos or Tokelau are. Through Independent Guåhan we are seeing if there is someway we can create a solidarity network to at least in some small way, deal with this distance.

In the meantime, Independent Guåhan is having a teach-in later this week to draw connections between Black Lives Matter and the Water Defenders at Standing Rock. As you can see from the flyer it'll take place June 8 from 6-7:30 at UOG HSS 106. The event is open to the public and absolutely dibåtde.


Thursday, June 01, 2017

Decolonization in the Caribbean #14: UN Delegations

Chamorros and others from Guam pushing for the island's decolonization first began visiting the United Nations in the early 1980s. This was after witnessing the United Nations and their role in assisting the other islands in Micronesia in their decolonization, and noticing that Guam and the Chamorro people were being left behind. A visiting mission from the United Nations to Guam in 1979 helped connect the local struggles to the larger international community, where such conversations about independence and self-governance were not taboo, but rather normal and more importantly, necessary. 

Part of the postwar strategy of the United States was to develop the islands in Micronesia into a buffer zone, to put space between its potential enemies in Asia. This meant prioritizing for two decades the military interests of the US over the interests or desires of the people in the region. This manifested most clearly in the form of security clearance requirements for those coming in and out of the Marianas. As politicians at the time were apt to grumble about quietly and rarely broach openly, everyone going in and out of the islands at the time, had to be approved or cleared by the US Navy. This meant a tourism industry and even simple economic development was extremely difficult for the island.

Guam by this time had been a colony of the US for five or six decades, and any connections to the rest of the world were strained or diminished completely. Take for instance something that is constantly discussed in Guam, the Japanese occupation of the island during the war, but which is scarcely discussed from the Chamorro perspective, even if Chamorros are constantly featured in the discussion. As Guam developed in the postwar context, Japan had gone from an enemy of the US, to one of its main allies. As the security clearance for the island was lifted, Japan was a primary option in terms of enticing tourists. This made sense if we consider Guam to just be a footnote of the US, a reflection of it, a minute emulator in the Western Pacific, with no real substance of its own. This is an extension of the saying that when the US sneezes, Guam gets a cold.

But this represented a problem with the trauma and pain that Chamorros experienced in World War II at the hands of the Japanese. A handful of Chamorros were interviewed at the time when Guam's tourism industry was born and some of them seemed perturbed at the idea that the island was now supposed to welcome with flower leis, those who just a generation before had come with swords and grenades. There is nothing wrong with reconciliation with Japan, but the problem is that the reconciliation was not Chamorro-driven, but rather something Guam was pulled into by US interests and local elites who were determined to follow whatever course the Mother Country allowed them. This is one reason why the antagonism leftover from World War II became directed more forcefully and openly towards the Chamorros from the northern islands, because no space was created for Chamorros on Guam to deal with their feelings towards the Japanese. There are a few stories of young people down South throwing rocks at Japanese tour buses, but in truth, Southern children were known to do that to any car driving that might be driving through their village.

We see this detached dynamic continue up until today, and it is on the one hand understandable, but nonetheless frustrating. US interests inundate the island, but at the same time, the US speaks for the island in all international forums, explicitly or implicitly claiming to represent our interests.

One of the appeals of the United Nations and its bodies was that it allowed Guam to have a forum for speaking, albeit symbolically, directly to the world. In so many other ways, the island is subsumed in American power and is barely perceptible in any way except as the tip of America's spear or where America's Day begins, but by traveling to the UN and testifying there, it represented a different possible future for Guam, where its identity, its interest, its ability to determine its destiny not be lost in the vagaries of American power. This is why at different points over the past four decades, delegations from Guam have been formed to travel to testify before the UN Fourth Committee in New York about the situation in Guam. It is an important form of outreach, which I myself got to participate in, when I traveled there with two others to testify in 2007. There are some small discussions about the possibility of reviving this strategy, as the last significant delegation to the UN from Guam was in 2010. The UN release on that visit is pasted below:

*************************

UN General Assembly
Special Committee on
Decolonization (C24)
7th Meeting (AM)

Special Committee on Decolonization Urged to Visit Guam as Petitioners Deplore Militarization of Non-Self-Governing Territory

Hearings also Held on Questions of Western Sahara, New Caledonia, Turks and Caicos Islands, United States Virgin Islands
 
Speaking out against the militarization of Guam by the United States, several petitioners today called upon members of the Special Committee on Decolonization to visit the Non-Self-Governing Territory and see the situation for themselves as soon as possible.

Many called attention to the release of an 11,000-page draft environmental impact statement by the United States, which the people of Guam had been given 90 days to study and comment on.  Hope Antoinette Cristobal urged the Special Committee to study the document, which was “in direct violation of various international human rights instruments, including United Nations resolutions and declarations”.

Rima Ilarishigh Peter Miles, speaking on behalf of Women for Genuine Security, noted that United States Navy activities carried out on the island had gravely impacted the environment, human health and the welfare of the territorial government.  Considering such challenges, she stressed the position that “the United States does not care what it destroys as long as no one knows about it”. 

Asserting that the United Nations must not allow negative impacts to further block the process of decolonization, many petitioners requested that the Special Committee declare the militarization of Guam to be a major impediment to Guam’s exercise of its right to self-determination.  They also requested that the Special Committee ensure that United States congressional appropriations and other United States military projects be put on hold until past injustices were remedied, current adverse impacts were negated and the potential for future adverse impacts completely removed.

The Special Committee — known also as the Special Committee of 24 or formally as the Special Committee on the Situation with Regard to the Implementation of the Declaration on the Granting of Independence to Colonial Countries and Peoples — also heard petitioners on the Non-Self-Governing Territories of Western Sahara, New Caledonia, Turks and Caicos Islands and the United States Virgin Islands.

On the question of New Caledonia, Caroline Machoro-Reignier of Front de libération nationale kanak socialiste underscored major challenges that remained despite progress made in the wake of the landmark 1998 Nouméa Accord.  Those included serious economic and social imbalances between the Territory’s Northern and Southern Provinces.  Emphasizing the inevitably of New Caledonia’s independence, she called for United Nations support, particularly legal assistance in developing a constitution.

As the Special Committee turned to the question of the Turks and Caicos Islands, two petitioners voiced deep concern about the process by which a new territorial constitution was to be created.  Wendal Swann, Chairman of the All-Party Commission on the Constitution and Electoral Reform, said that the Government of the United Kingdom had appointed a constitutional consultant to catalogue the views of the Territory’s people — after deciding to suspend specific portions of the current charter.

Benjamin Roberts of the Turks and Caicos Forum said the appointment had incited fears among the Territory’s people that their interests would not truly be heard, and that the United Kingdom would impose a decree on the islands if they ratified a constitution that did not reflect the administering Power’s views.

Also taking part in today’s proceedings were representatives of Cuba, Venezuela, Bolivia, Nicaragua, Chile, Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

The Special Committee will reconvene at 10 a.m. on Wednesday, 23 June, to continue its hearing of petitioners on the question of the United States Virgin Islands.

Background

The Special Committee on Decolonization met today to hear petitioners on the questions of Western Sahara, New Caledonia, Guam, Turks and Caicos Islands, and the United States Virgin Islands.

Question of Western Sahara

PEDRO NUÑEZ MOSQUERA ( Cuba) said that in light of the Saharan people’s struggles over 40 years to gain independence, the conflict in the Territory should be included on the General Assembly’s agenda as a direct responsibility of the United Nations.  The Special Committee had a key role to play in fulfilling that aim, he said, noting that the people of Western Sahara were the only ones who could choose their future freely and without pressure or conditions.  The United Nations had adopted more than 40 resolutions since 1963, when Western Sahara had been added to the list of Non-Self-Governing Territories, and several rounds of discussion had taken place on the issue, he said, emphasizing that all parties involved must step up their determination to continue their efforts.

The self-determination of the Saharan people must be guaranteed within the framework of the United Nations Charter and resolution 1514 (XV), he said, stressing further that they needed the support of the entire international community.  To that end, Cuba had contributed as much as possible to the development of the Saharan people, particularly in the area of education, he said, affirming that his country would continue to support the development of a just and definitive solution to the situation of Western Sahara, whose people would always be able to count on Cuba.

JORGE VALERO BRICEÑO (Venezuela), stressing his country’s solidarity with and commitment to the self-determination efforts of Western Sahara, said his country’s Constitution enshrined the principles of respect for the inalienable rights to independence, territorial integrity and self-determination, to which strict adherence must be exercised.  On the basis of those principles, Venezuela had extended diplomatic recognition to the Sahrawi Arab Democratic Republic, and therefore reiterated its request for similar United Nations support.

He called for the strict implementation of resolution 1514 (XV) and urged the Special Committee to consider the situation with more determination, taking into account the need to promote justice and the human rights for the Saharan people.  Expressing hope that negotiations would ensure the implementation of relevant appropriate resolutions, he said they could only succeed if carried out within the framework of the Charter and resolution 1514 (XV).  In addition, Venezuela reaffirmed, as per resolution 1514 (XV), the necessity of eliminating colonialism, racial discrimination and human rights violations, and called upon administering Powers to take the necessary action to ensure the exercise of self-determination.

AHMED BOUKHARI, Popular Front for the Liberation of Saguia el-Hamra and Rio de Oro (Polisario Front), said 18 years had passed since the United Nations had endorsed, in 1991, the plan for a self-determination referendum in Western Sahara, which was still to be held.  The process had been deterred by Morocco on the basis of friendships it had forged in the Security Council, particularly with France, which would provide it with impunity to continue its destructive efforts.  Morocco still believed that it could involve the Council in gravely altering the Saharan people’s fundamental basic right to self-determination.  None of the endeavours carried out, from the 1997 Houston Agreement to the 2003 Baker Plan, to efforts by Christopher Ross, the Secretary-General’s Personal Envoy, had managed to overcome the intransigence of the occupying Power, he said.

Morocco had incorporated new arguments and pretexts to create new alliances within the Council in exchange for hopes of realizing the final annexation of Western Sahara, he continued.  That would signify the introduction of a new and curious doctrine that would enable all those participating in it to annex neighbouring territories, he warned.  That pseudo-solution of “autonomy of Moroccan sovereignty”, which Morocco had formulated in 2007 and set as a precondition for advancing the current negotiations, implied forcing the Saharan people to renounce the option of independence and integrate into the occupying Power.  It would not be difficult for members of the Special Committee to consider that pseudo-solution as a grave rejection of the principle of self-determination, established by the United Nations in resolution 1514 (XV) and defined in resolution 1541 (XV).

Morocco continued to negate the 1991 United Nations decision, he said, adding that it also continued illegally to exploit Western Sahara’s natural resources and to violate the Saharan people’s human rights under the eyes and ears of the United Nations Mission for the Referendum in Western Sahara (MINURSO).  There was no indication that Morocco would change its position in the near future, he said, noting that the United Nations would fail to address the situation of the last African territory on the Special Committee’s agenda.  The Moroccan case could have represented success on decolonization, but instead, it had become a symbol of protracted failure.  No one could resign themselves to a fait accompli predicated on false and territorial appetites, he stressed.

He said Morocco was continuing the expansionist policies of Mohamed Allal al‑Fassi, leader of the Istiqlal Party, who had sought, since independence in 1956, to forge a “Greater Morocco” extending into Senegal and swallowing up all of Western Sahara, Mauritania and parts of Algeria and Mali.  The region had seen no peace since 1975, and had even moved further away from it due to Morocco’s decision to base its demands on ancient history.  Failure to follow the road to peace, as instructed by the United Nations, should not be permitted, he said, adding that the Special Committee could play a large role in replacing injury and violence with a complete process for the peaceful decolonization of the last African colony on its agenda.

More than ever, the Special Committee had the chance to find out for itself what was happening in the Territory, he said, recalling that its last visit to Western Sahara had taken place 35 years ago.  There was no valid or convincing reason to object to a second visit until the question of decolonization was resolved.  The Special Committee had a right to request and receive true and appropriate information about the situation in the Territory, but Morocco was refusing to provide it, claiming that it had no colonies, only “provinces”.  Sooner or later international law would prevail in Western Sahara, he said.

Calling for a pooling of efforts to convince Morocco to cooperate with the United Nations on ending the unsustainable colonial situation that had handicapped the future of the entire region, bringing instability and insecurity, he said all countries of the region had been subjected to European colonization, and had subsequently spent years building their own independent futures.  “We cannot be an exception to the general rule,” he emphasized, denouncing Morocco for trying to return to times of injury, violence and territorial bullying based on ancient history.  The only way forward was through a democratic solution in which the Saharan people would be masters of their own destiny, he said.

When asked by the representative of Bolivia about a solution to the conflict, Mr. BOUKHARI said all the parties concerned had agreed on a solution “a long time”.  The consensus had been that the Saharan people could decide whether they preferred to remain part of Morocco or to become independent.  However, there had been a deviation from that process towards attempts to legitimize an unacceptable situation, he said, noting that, during informal negotiations, Morocco had taken “a step back”.  In light of that, Mr. Ross hoped to consider a new negotiating round in efforts to move forward.  The only solution was to apply the already agreed-upon principle of self-determination for Western Sahara, he said, noting that any other method could lead to “a dead end”.

Responding to a question by the representative of Nicaragua about the Special Committee’s role, he said that, as long as the decolonization process continued in the Territory, the Special Committee would remain involved and use all the means at its disposal.  He said he did not understand the rationale behind objections to the Special Committee visiting Western Sahara in order for members to view the situation for themselves.  It should visit, since preventing such a visit would not help to strengthen the competence of its work.

Asked by the representative of Venezuela about the difficulties of the decolonization process, he said the current situation in Western Sahara was the result of destruction that had begun in 2009.  Considering the risk that a lack of action could become a shield for the status quo, he urged the United Nations to take another look at the situation in Western Sahara so as to avoid a tragedy that would take place in the Organization’s name.

DONATUS KEITH ST. AIMEE (Saint Lucia), Chair of the Special Committee, said it was not possible to have two separate solutions, adding that he would seek to move the process forward through talks between the parties concerned.  He expressed concern that the approaches taken thus far had not produced results and he would work towards a different approach, if needed.

The representative of Chile said it was important to keep the matter on the agenda in the interest of the right to self-determination.  The Special Committee must also raise the question of beginning a third International Decade for the Eradication of Colonialism.

The representative of Nicaragua supported Chile’s proposal.

Question of New Caledonia

CAROLINE MACHORO-REIGNIER, Front de lib ération nationale kanak socialiste, said the Kanak people were on the path towards achieving their destiny.  While it had been difficult and bloody in light of revolts, war and assassinations, the Kanak people had also experienced victories, noting that New Caledonia was becoming financially autonomous and economically viable.  The 1998 Nouméa Accord towards a transfer of power from France to New Caledonia had led to a territorial government based on solidarity and dialogue, she said.

Despite the positive progress made, however, major issues remained, she said, highlighting the substantial economic and social imbalances that had led to the overdevelopment of the Southern Province and the underdevelopment of the Northern Province.  Moreover, high unemployment rates had begun to attract private interests that could potentially call into question certain policies aimed at emancipating the Territory’s indigenous people, she said, noting that considerable migration, primarily of people from Europe, could lead to social destabilization.  Such issues could have a negative impact, particularly on the transfer of competencies and the related training, and on the establishment of the people’s citizenship and employment priorities.

Expressing concern that the Nouméa process was not moving as rapidly as expected, she underscored the Territory’s willingness to confront all challenges, including the need for regular evaluation of public policies conducted within the Nouméa framework.  An independent New Caledonia was inevitable, she stressed, expressing hope that the United Nations would continue to support the Territory and to help it achieve its goals.  She requested legal assistance from the Special Committee to help the Territory develop a constitution.

Responding to a question from the representative of Cuba concerning economic and social imbalances, she cited several examples, noting that 85 per cent of total mining revenue was generated in the South.  In that social context, 85 per cent of households in the south had access to running water, as compared to 65 per cent in the north, she said, adding that efforts were being made to reduce those serious geographical imbalances.

Also making statements on the question of New Caledonia were the representatives of Fiji and Papua New Guinea.

Question of Guam

RIMA ILARISHIGH PETER MILES, Women for Genuine Security, called for immediate United Nations action to advance the protection and fulfilment of the right to self-determination of Guam’s Chamoru people.  That right was currently under threat in light of the continuing avoidance of the issue on the part of the United States, as well as recent actions which contradicted the terms of that administering Power’s obligation to the Chamoru people.

She said the presence of the United States Navy in Guam had brought about extremely negative impacts, including environmental deterioration, the drying up of major freshwater sources and a population boom of 80,000, which had created a financial burden for the territorial government.  Such challenges warranted the Special Committee’s support in demanding that the United States take no further action in militarizing the Mariana Islands, she said.

“The United States does not care what it destroys as long as no one knows about it,” she stressed, noting that the militarization of Guam was a direct impediment to the right of self-determination.  As for the severe health implications of militarization for the Chamoru people, she tearfully called upon the United Nations to send a visiting mission to survey the situation and to challenge protocol in such matters when the administering Power was non-cooperative.  It was critical, to protect Guam’s land and resources, and to help the Territory achieve the highest possible level of economic self-reliance, environmental protection, as well as social and educational development, she said.

HOPE ANTOINETTE CRISTOBAL said Guam’s indigenous people continued to suffer social, cultural and environmental annihilation at the hands of their United States oppressors.  The Chamorro people were dying and suffering at disproportionate rates in comparison with their United States counterparts, she said, noting that their health concerns were similar to those in New Caledonia, which suffered “an overrepresentation” of depression, anxiety, alcohol and drug use, and violence.  Guam had some of the world’s highest suicide rates, and the hyper-militarization plans of the United States would exacerbate those problems.  As the administering Power for more than six decades, the United States must bear responsibility for Guam’s tragic invisibility, which had resulted in inadequate public-health resources.

She recalled that, in 2005, the people of Guam had been notified through the media that some 7,000 United States marines were being transferred to the Territory from Okinawa, Japan.  The United States Department of Defense had refused to give any further information on the matter, citing its plans as “tentative” until the release of a draft environmental impact statement.  The people of Guam had been given only 90 days to study and comment on the 11,000-page document, she said.  Six months after its release, the territorial government was struggling to get United States funding to deal with the anticipated impact on water, power and sewer infrastructure, as well as seaport facilities contained in the plans.

Emphasizing that it behoved the Special Committee to study the document, which was in direct violation of various international human rights instruments, including United Nations resolutions and declarations, she said the United States was making plans to dredge 287,327 square metres of coral reefs in Apra Harbour, Guam’s only natural deep-water harbour, which already contained high traces of arsenic, lead, copper, mercury and tin, among other harmful chemicals.

She went on to say that traditional lands comprising a recently designated national historic preservation site and sacred areas near Mount LamLam had been scheduled for land takeovers through coercive procedures or outright purchase.  There was no indication that the United States would adhere to its responsibilities under United Nations resolutions and treaties, and Guam’s people would suffer irreparable damage as a result, she added.

She asked the Special Committee to declare, unequivocally, that the militarization of Guam was a major impediment to the Decolonization Declaration, and that Guam’s separate and distinct status under the United Nations Charter should exist until the Chamorro people had exercised their right to self-determination, without external interference.  She asked the Special Committee to request a United Nations visiting mission to Guam as soon as possible.

JULIE GILGOFF, a Guam journalist, read out a statement on behalf of Senator Vicente Cabrera Pangelinan, saying that the people of Guam wanted to resolve their political relationship with the United States before ceding any more control of their lands and oceans, or the rights of the people.  The Special Committee must advance the self-determination process immediately, because recent decisions by the administering Power diluted that right daily.  The decision to increase the population base in Guam, a Non-Self-Governing Territory, contravened the principles of decolonization, and was being carried out in a disingenuous, secretive manner.  In the United States own words, the planned increased military presence was the most massive military undertaking in the movement of military personnel since the Second World War.

She said that, in the past couple of years, the Senator’s office had been registering native inhabitants and their descendants.  In an effort to increase the number of eligible voters for a decolonization plebiscite, the Senator had sponsored legislation and public law 30-102 to accept the registration rolls of participants in the land trust programme, which had the same eligibility criteria as the decolonization registry.  Guam was seeking financial and technical resources from the administering authority to implement an education campaign to adequately inform the Chamorro about the plebiscite vote, she added.

Calling on the United Nations to give the petition to Member States, particularly the United States, and to demand the administering Power’s compliance with it, she said Guam’s inalienable right to self-determination must be upheld in the face of the threat posed by military expansion.  The Fourth Committee (Special Political and Decolonization) must immediately seek the full support of its Members and the international community.  It must be allowed to send a visiting mission to Guam to affirm the wishes of the Chamorro people for a decolonization plebiscite and attest to the urgency of those wishes.

TRESSA DIAZ, Fuetsan Famalao’an, expressed concern about the impact of militarization on the island’s social infrastructure and the livelihood of its women and children.  The United States Department of Defense was working behind closed doors to prepare a final impact statement, with view to adopt it at the end of August.  Congress had refused to hold an open hearing to air the concerns of people whose lives would be affected forever by the military expansion, she said.

Emphasizing that the United States military had long since displaced generations of Chamorro families and replaced much of their agricultural, hunting and ranching activities with Government and military employment, she said many local people were unaware that Guam’s land, water and food were still contaminated.  Mustard gas, PCBs and radiation continued to plague the area and its food supply, especially the waters off Orote Point in southern Guam and the surrounding Cocos Islands, due to military dumping.  She urged the Special Committee to conduct a hearing on Guam to see the substandard living conditions of the island’s people.  The United Nations must not allow more negative impacts to precede determination of the island’s political status.

Congressional appropriations and more military projects should be put on hold until past injustices were remedied, current adverse impacts were negated and the potential for future adverse impacts completely removed, she stressed, calling on the Special Committee to give top priority to the Chamorro people’s right to self-determination.  It should investigate the administering Power’s compliance or non-compliance with its Charter obligations under Article 73 to promote the socio-economic development and preserve the cultural identity of Non-Self-Governing Territories.  She also asked the Special Committee to recommend that the General Assembly pass a resolution authorizing a United Nations visiting mission to examine the impact of the military on the Special Committee’s work, as well as a resolution reaffirming that the Question of Guam was one of decolonization that remained to be completed.

ANDREA SANTOS, We Are Guahan, said her organization was deeply alarmed by the injustices proposed under United States militarization plans.  The Guam Environmental Protection Agency had given the military’s impact statement its lowest possible rating, calling it the most poorly constructed impact statement it had ever evaluated.  Noting that United States plans had rendered the people of Guam powerless over their destiny, she said: “The political freedom, environmental safety and cultural legacy we leave to future generations is one that is ultimately decided by those who view their home as nothing more than a gas station or military training ground in the Pacific.”

The basic necessities for maintaining or creating a self-sustaining, empowered, healthy population were threatened by the United States plans, she said, adding that militarization would create a water shortfall of 2.3 million gallons per day for people living outside the properties controlled by the Department of Defense.  The island’s already underfunded and understaffed education system would not be able to absorb the projected influx of 8,000 students.

According to local economists, United States projections of economic gains due to militarization had been inflated by more than 118 per cent, she said.  Projected tax revenues would not be enough to support the 80,000 new residents who would arrive in 2014.  Moreover, already low living standards would deteriorate further, and the predicted housing shortage through 2014 would drive up house prices while increasing homelessness and overcrowding.  The impact on the coral reefs protecting the island from storms and earthquakes would be impacted in an unprecedented way, she said, adding that noise and pollution would also increase.  The decolonization of Guam should take place without the administering Power and with the cooperation of the United Nations, she stressed, calling for an investigation into the administering Power’s compliance with the Charter.

The representative of Bolivia asked the extent to which the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People was known among Guam’s population.

Ms. CRISTOBAL said only a few people were aware of it, and for decades Guam’s residents had had a “colonial mindset”.  They had only become aware of their island’s true status when the United States had announced plans for hyper-militarization, she said, emphasizing that it was imperative that the United Nations establish a presence in Guam and show its people that there was international concern to decolonize the Territory.

Mr. ST. AIMEE (Saint Lucia), Special Committee Chair, said United Nations agencies could disseminate information on the Declaration, adding that they had a mandate to provide assistance to local populations, such as the inhabitants of Guam.

Question of Turks and Caicos Islands

BENJAMIN ROBERTS, Turks and Caicos Forum, noted that, while the islands had experienced unprecedented growth in the last 40 years, rapid development had led to increased crime, social ills and corruption.  Financial challenges had been caused by a lack of accountability on the part of elected officials and civil servants, as well as “horrendous oversight by the British”, he said, noting that since the administering Power’s installation of an interim territorial government, more people had experienced financial hardship and felt disempowered.

While the United Kingdom was not entirely to blame, he stressed that it had not taken the necessary actions to remedy the Territory’s situation, as it had initially proposed.  Recently, the interim territorial government had contracted a constitutional consultant to catalogue the people’s ideas for constitutional reform.  The resulting document would be a constitution that would in turn become the law of the land prior to the end of the two-year interim government period, making way for fresh elections, he said.

He said major concerns had emerged about the United Kingdom’s use of a constitutional consultant, with many fearing that she would answer only to her employer rather than champion the islanders’ interests.  The United Kingdom could then simply decree the document, which would be a blatant violation of the people’s human rights.  The document must not become law until it had been ratified by the elected territorial government, ensuring the consent of the people, he stressed.

WENDAL SWANN, Chairman of the All-Party Commission on the Constitution and Electoral Reform, Turks and Caicos Islands, said certain challenges facing the islanders were a result of the current constitutional state of affairs.  The Governor was considered a “constitutional dictator”, holding all authority on the basis of a decision by the United Kingdom.  By the same decision, parts of the Turks and Caicos constitution had been suspended, he said, adding that Robin Auld — a former Chief Justice appointed by the administering Power to conduct a Commission of Inquiry into possible ministerial corruption — had recommended the suspension without citing any perceived constitutional failures.

Following that recommendation, the United Kingdom had appointed Kate Sullivan to run consultations with the people, he continued.  Referring to certain provisions of the constitution that would definitely be changed, Ms. Sullivan had excluded the media from her meetings, thus proving the process of consultation to be “more a sham than anything reliable”.  He stressed that, unless such a process was challenged, its acceptance by the administering Power as a legitimate consultation with the people would nullify their voices.  To prevent that, the Territory’s political leaders had appointed an independent commission to reflect the views of the people.  The Governor did not and could not represent the interests of the people, he emphasized, pointing out that the suspension of the constitution had only served to make the people leaderless.

When asked how elections could be held without a constitution, Mr. Swann reiterated that public consultations were being held, and it was to be hoped that afterwards, the United Kingdom would consider the independent Commission’s report as well as Ms. Sullivan’s.  Noting that the current constitution was simply an order in Council, he said he hoped all parties involved could eventually accept a new one.  With regard to the elections, Mr. Roberts called on the Special Committee to provide the Territory with assistance to ensure that the new constitution was ratified by the people.  The Special Committee’s support in that matter could help prevent an undesired decree by the United Kingdom, he said.

Question of United States Virgin Islands

GERARD LUZ AMWUR JAMES, President of the Fifth Constitutional Convention of the United States Virgin Islands, updated the Special Committee on the Territory’s constitution-making efforts, saying it was making its fifth attempt to draft a locally written charter to replace the 1954 Revised Organic Act, which had been written by the administering Power and served as the governing document in lieu of a constitution.  The proposed constitution had been adopted by the Fifth Constitutional Convention last May following extensive fact gathering in public meetings throughout the Territory.

The proposed constitution had been adopted by the required two-thirds majority vote, and had been forwarded in December to the administering Power, he said.  Written under the present non self-governing territorial status, the document was not intended to alter that status, but rather to organize “internal governance arrangements”, he said, adding that he had recently led a delegation to Washington, D.C., to present the document to two congressional committees, followed by a presentation of the administering Power’s views.  Congress had asked the Convention to reconvene and consider the administering Power’s objections, he said.

He recalled that, during his statement to the United States Senate’s Energy and Natural Resource Committee, he had noted that the proposed constitution had been drafted by and for the people of the United States Virgin Islands, and was not a proposal to govern other people.  Several negative comments had been made about certain provisions of the document, he noted, by people who had not “worn the shoes” of those who had suffered the indignity of being externally governed.  They had not examined the evidence that had led the Convention to adopt the necessary provisions to maintain generations of local people working hard to own property that would provide life for themselves and their descendants.

The critics had not reviewed the evidence that showed that those with Virgin Islands ancestry, primarily people of African descent, had been devastated by the administering Power’s lack of support, he continued.  For example, half of the local population had left the Territory, an exodus that must stop, he said, stressing that the extinction of the native people was not an acceptable option.  Young people were leaving because their parents could not afford to pass on to them homes and businesses that had been in the family for decades.  Home values had increased exponentially due to external factors, causing tax hikes well beyond the ability of local families to pay.

One of the objections to the proposed constitution had been over any meaningful reference to the native population, he recalled.  However, such recognition should not cause suspicion or be challenged as improper, since it was the administering Power that had recognized and defined the native population, pursuant to the 1917 treaty transferring the Territory from Denmark to the United States.  Subsequent citizenship and nationality laws of the administering Power imposed in 1927 and 1940 confirmed that recognition, he said, adding that the provisions of the proposed constitution granting certain benefits to the native population were consistent with policies, agreements and treaties executed by the administering Power.  The document went further, however, by embracing all those born in the Territory, including the children of people born elsewhere who had made the Virgin Islands their home.

A key area of difference between the Convention and the administering Power had been over the local people’s ownership of the Territory’s marine resources, he recalled, noting that the administering Power regarded the islands’ natural resources as its own.  That was inconsistent with relevant General Assembly resolutions and with the Law of the Sea, which had affirmed for decades that the ownership, control and disposal of natural resources, including marine resources, lay with the people of the Non-Self-Governing Territory in question.  That inconsistency must be reconciled as a matter of priority in the United Nations.

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