Underwood slams US for ‘dodging’ obligation to facilitate Guam’s self-rule
From left, Joni Kerr, Michelle Voacolo, Dave Lotz, Robert Underwood, Elyssa Santos and Jesse Chargualaf discuss details of the self-determination march from Adelup to District Court of Guam during a press conference held at Java Junction in Hagatna on Thursday.
A multisectoral coalition will spearhead a march from Adelup to the District Court of Guam on Sept. 2 in a bid to galvanize the local and federal governments into advancing the decolonization process for the island.
Billed “Fanohge: March for Chamoru Self-Determination,” the event seeks to “provide a space where all who love this island can build toward a better future for this island in which the Chamoru people remain respected, and their rights, their place in this island protected,” the coalition states in a press release.
The coalition is targeting a large crowd of supporters to join the march that will seek an end to Guam's political limbo.
“In this march, we ask all people of Guam to joint us, not to divide the community but to unite it,” Dr. Robert Underwood, former congressman and former president of the University of Guam, said at a press conference on Thursday.
“We understand the controversy and the misinformation about surrounding the Chamoru self-determination. We understand the obstacles ahead, especially in light of the Ninth Circuit’s ruling,” he added.
Guam’s quest for self-rule was pumped up anew by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals’ recent ruling that upheld the 2017 lawsuit filed by Air Force veteran Arnold Dave Davis, who challenged the “Native Inhabitants of Guam” voter eligibility restriction.
Underwood said the Dave Davis ruling served as a catalyst that offers the territory an opportunity to “reexamine the whole issue of self-determination.”
Read related story
Appeals court strikes down race-based plebiscite law
“It is precisely because of this recent decision that we want to demonstrate in the full meaning of that word that the community of Guam should embrace Chamoru self-determination and that the elected officials of this island should continue to support its fulfillment,” he added.
The appeals court held that “the provision of that law restricting voting to ‘native inhabitants of Guam’ constituted an impermissible racial classification in violation of the Fifteenth Amendment.”
“In a way,” Underwood said, “[the court’s decision] invigorated us into action, which has been dormant for a while.”
In the repeatedly postponed non-binding self-rule plebiscite, Guam has three political status options to choose from: independence, statehood and free association.
While bound by the international law to facilitate Guam’s political development, Underwood said, the U.S. opts to sit on the fence.
“It does not have the political will to do so at this time and how the federal government basically dodges the issue: ‘we’ll wait until they are clear on what they want and how we will react to what they want,’” Underwood said. “That’s not the obligation of someone in charge. If you are in charge of something, you are supposed to create an opportunity for people to learn how to govern themselves.”
Heads of the coalition include representatives from the academe, environment and cultural sectors.The territory’s status quo is not acceptable, they said.
“Self-determination is a basic right for ethnic groups and has eluded the Chamoru people f Guam as the sovereignty of the people of Guam has never been relinquished,” said Dave Lotz, historian and former conservation resource chief at Anderson Air Force Base. “Further, it is very disappointing that the United States, a country that prides itself on democracy, has ignored the sovereignty of the indigenous people of Guam.”
“The economy, environment jobs, education are all affected by political status,” said Michele Voacolo, of Micronesian Climate Change Alliance.
Joni Kerr, associate professor of the Guam Community College, said the status quo leaves all residents of Guam in a position of weakness and vulnerability. “Recent events clarify the connection between the need for some form of sovereignty for Guam and our ability to control and protect our natural resources,” she said.
Jesse Chargaluaf, UOG student, said “The march is mean to support the people of this island who have suffered a history of injustice and a history of being silenced. They cannot break this silence unless the entire community can get behind them.”
Elyssa Santos, who teaches Guam history at UOG said, “what I have seen time and time again is that many students have had limited exposure to political development and contemporary grassroots movements in Guam history.”
The renewed dialogues on self-rule, she added are “empowering” for Chamoru and non-indigenous students.
Read more in the September issue of the Pacific Island Times.
Click here to subscribe to our digital edition