Guam is ready to rule itself and no matter what political status it may choose, the island’s security and defense system would remain in place, according to gubernatorial candidates who faced off Tuesday night in their first public debate at the University of Guam.
The One Guam Gubernatorial Debate zoomed in on decolonization as well as the candidates’ proposed transition plans and economic options for a post-colonial Guam.
Defense is one area of concern for the skeptics, who wonder how a tiny island, standing on its own, can protect itself from any potential assault.
As far the gubernatorial candidates are concerned, there is no reason to worry.
“Let’s face it, no matter what we push forward on self-determination and decolonization, who says the military will not be in the mix?” former Gov. Carl Gutierrez said. “We are significant to American defense, so we should not worry about that.”
But the status quo, Gutierrez said, is “not enough” to give Guam a meaningful participation in defense discussions. “All those laws that say one-size-fits-all (must go away); we are not that anymore,” he said.
Former Sen. Lou Leon Guerrero said defense “will not be affected” if Guam chose either to be freely associated with the United States or fully integrated as a state.
While being an independent nation “will require our own local internal defense,” Leon Guerrero said “there is no reason why we cannot have alliances with the U.S. and foreign countries. We can still be safe.”
Sen. Dennis Rodriguez agreed. Being constantly referred to as “the tip of spear,” he said, Guam can expect to continue getting the U.S. military backing.
Sen. Frank Aguon said Guam as an independent nation can negotiate treaties with the U.S. and other countries. “It is critical that self-governance study be conducted so that these questions on national defense and cultural preservation are part of the information to be disseminated to make sure that our people are well informed,” he said.
Guam’s self-determination is a long quest that has been repeatedly hampered by legal intricacies and silent resistance from those in the electoral periphery. UOG president Robert Underwood underscored the complexity of the decolonization process, noting that two of the gubernatorial candidates are not qualified to vote in the self-rule plebiscite based on the “non-native inhabitants” eligibility requirement.
Gutierrez, Leon Guerrero, Rodriguez and Aguon are seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination in the August primary.
Lt. Gov. Ray Tenorio, the Republican Party’s unchallenged candidate, said “no matter what status we take, we will be defended. The U.S. has been with us for more than a hundred years and we will continue to have the U.S. here.”
Tenorio added that Guam has proven its loyalty. “Our men women serve in the military,” he said. “We need to negotiate with the U.S. to make sure our issues are met— not just defense but also our infrastructure.”
In the yet-to-be scheduled political status plebiscite, voters would be asked to choose among three options: independent, statehood and free association.
Guam’s self-determination is a long quest that has been repeatedly hampered by legal intricacies and silent resistance from those in the electoral periphery.
In his opening remarks, UOG president Robert Underwood underscored the complexity of the decolonization process, noting that two of the gubernatorial candidates—Rodriguez and Tenorio— are not qualified to vote in the self-rule plebiscite based on the “non-native inhabitants” eligibility requirement.
Despite his ineligibility to vote in the political status plebiscite, Rodriguez invoked his Filipino heritage to advocate for decolonization.
“We know what it is like to be free, and we can celebrate it,” Rodriguez said. “There is a famine of culture in the masses of our people starving for identity and lacking confidence in purpose. It has torn us between the haves and the have nots and has ripped us apart. It has thrown us into the depths of poverty and corruption.”
He delivered his closing statements in Chamorro, explaining that the Chamorros' plight to decolonize will be chief among his priorities.
Tenorio, who is of Caucasian descent, endorsed “the Chamorro-vote only.” Also closing off the debate in Chamorro, the lt. governor acknowledged that some “may wonder if I am qualified. Yes, my skin is white, but my upbringing is Chamorro; my heart is Chamorro.”
On the issue of post-colonial transition economy, each candidate proposed industries that would supplement tourism and the military.
Tenorio proposes a new focus on agriculture “as the third leg of the Guam economy.” He also promised to increase investments in education by providing free tuition. “We need to be able to build people that will build the economy,” he said.
Rodriguez proposed a green movement to develop the island’s self-sustainability. “We need to grow our own food. Every home must start a garden and a true farm-to-table will happen.”
Gutierrez vowed to team up with the business community and to optimize the use of technology. “With more fiber optic in and out of Guam, we are now poised to take advantage of that.”
Leon Guerrero proposed the enhancement of foreign trade. “With a new negotiating power, we can bring in more investors. Let us increase our aquaculture, fishery, transhipment and transportation.”
Aguon again emphasized the importance of completing the decolonization study, which will look into the economic and social impact of each of three political status options.
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