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Full Interview with Activists Resisting U.S. Military Bases from Japan, Guam and Hawai’i

Web ExclusiveMay 24, 2010
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    Watch the full version of our interview with activists from Japan, Guam and Hawai’i who are resisting the expansion of U.S. military bases in the Pacific.

    KYLE KAJIHIRO: I think it’s important to consider how important the Pacific has been for the expansion of American empire. And Hawai’i was one of the first casualties in 1893, when U.S. troops invaded and occupied the sovereign kingdom of Hawai’i to establish a forward base that enabled the U.S. to defeat Spain in the Spanish-American War and then acquire its colonies, in the Philippines and Guam and also Puerto Rico and Cuba. And that sets up another conflict with Japan during World War II, in which the United States emerges as a global power with nuclear capabilities and acquires new colonies in the Marianas, Marshall Islands and Okinawa. So we see the legacy of that history played out.

    And America has always considered the Pacific, similar to Latin America, as its—you know, its own domain, its special domain. They call it the American Lake. And, you know, that’s what we’re struggling against, is that idea that, you know, the U.S. has this dominion and without consideration for the peoples and the human rights of people in that area.

    So, right now, we are seeing that the Asia Pacific is even, you know, becoming more important with the rise of China, and the U.S. sees China as its main strategic competitor. And that, I think, is a lot of what’s driving the military realignment in Korea, in Japan, Okinawa and Guam to encircle China and basically neutralize its capabilities.

    ANJALI KAMAT: Kozue, can you talk about what happened in Japan last week? There was a major protest, 100,000 people in Okinawa protesting the construction of a new U.S. military base. Explain what’s going on with Japan-U.S. relations and with U.S. military bases in Japan.

    KOZUE AKIBAYASHI: Okinawa is a part of Japan. It’s the southernmost part of Japan. It’s a small prefecture, out of 47, where U.S. military—75 percent of U.S. military facilities, exclusively used by the U.S. military, is located. So there is this high concentration of U.S. military in Okinawa, and that is why we are highlighting the problem in Okinawa.

    There has been a proposal of building a new base in Okinawa, a completely new one and state-of-the-art military facility in Okinawa, which was protested by people in the community for 10 years, by now. We had this regime change last year, and the new administration promised that there will be no buildup in Okinawa. However, what is going on now is that they are negotiating with the U.S. government and saying that we cannot help building this new one.

    So that is when—and this has been disclosed in the past month or so, and that is why the Okinawan people are raging against and they felt the need to express their protest against this newly built—buildup of base in Okinawa. And that is how this 90,000 people gathered at this rally. And the population of Okinawa is 1.3 million. That’s a lot of people who gathered. And there are many people who cannot express their protest or against their—their protest, because the U.S. military has been there for a long time. The military economy is part of their life. It’s very difficult for them to publicly say no. But this 90,000 peoples rally was—showed how strong they felt.

    AMY GOODMAN: Why are Japanese in Okinawa so opposed to the base there?

    KOZUE AKIBAYASHI: The live very close—in Okinawa, they live very, very close to the military base. It’s not an isolated location. The military base is here, and they have to find places where they could build their houses. It affects in many ways of their lives. Noise pollution is one of them. Environmental pollution is one of them.

    AMY GOODMAN: The issue of rape?

    KOZUE AKIBAYASHI: Yes, yes. That’s more pervasive, but deep-rooted problem that women and children, girls, face in the vicinity. Not only the close vicinity, but the entire island of Okinawa face danger of sexual violence by U.S. soldiers.

    AMY GOODMAN: And Melvin, if you can talk about what’s happening on Guam.

    MELVIN WON PAT-BORJA: Well, basically, you know, with this proposed base closure in Okinawa, the remedy to this solution is really seen as transferring the bulk of these soldiers from Okinawa to Guam. And that’s kind of where we come in. You know, there’s been a lot of debate about where these Marines should go. And, you know, the United States’ attitude toward this is that, you know, Guam is their territory. You know, they see Guam as sovereign U.S. soil, and it allows them freedom of action, which is one of the major pieces of—or major factors in why they chose Guam, because it allows them to basically operate without having to deal with a foreign government.

    And so, they plan to move 8,600 Marines from Okinawa to Guam, plus their 9,000 dependents. They also include an Army ballistic missile defense system, which will bring an additional 600 Army soldiers. And they plan to dredge a—they plan to dredge 71 acres of coral reef in Apra Harbor in order to make room for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. They also have plans to acquire 2,200 additional acres of land, and they already own about a third of the island. And keep in mind, Guam is only about 31 miles long and seven miles wide in the narrowest point. Our population is a little bit over 170,000 people. And the military predicts that, at the peak year of the buildup, we will expect a population boom of about additional 80,000 people.

    AMY GOODMAN: So a 50 percent increase almost.

    MELVIN WON PAT-BORJA: Basically.

    ANJALI KAMAT: Melvin, talk about what it was like to grow up in the shadow of these U.S. military bases in Guam. What is everyday life like? How does it impact you?

    MELVIN WON PAT-BORJA: Well, you know, the interesting thing about the base presence in Guam is that, you know, we are a United States unincorporated territory. And so, you know, we are U.S. citizens, and I think that’s one of the major—it’s seen as one of the major differences between Guam and Okinawa. But the reality is that, you know, we essentially are second-class citizens. As a, you know, unincorporated U.S. territory, you know, we don’t have representation in the Senate. We have a non-voting representative in Congress. We don’t vote for president. But we still fall under all U.S. federal laws and regulations.

    AMY GOODMAN: Were you ever concerned that they were going to move Guantánamo to Guam?

    MELVIN WON PAT-BORJA: I mean, you know, it’s definite—really, when it comes to Guam and, you know, military strategy, you really don’t know what’s going happen. And there’s no—we really have no control over what happens. You know, in the military’s plan, in their DEIS, their Draft Environmental Impact Statement, they basically said that, you know, other alternatives for the base relocation from Okinawa included the Philippines, Korea and Hawai’i. And all three of those places said no. But nowhere in the document does it say that we ever had the opportunity to say no. And that’s kind of—you know, that’s pretty much the climate in Guam, is that, you know, we just—we basically are forced to accept whatever it is that the United States federal government and the military decides to do.

    AMY GOODMAN: How did the United States come to incorporate Guam as a territory of the United States?

    MELVIN WON PAT-BORJA: Guam was purchased by the United States from Spain through the Treaty of Paris. So Guam actually was technically owned by the United States before World War II. Now, during World War II, we were—when the Americans got word that Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and that they were invading, you know, they basically left. They abandoned Guam, and we were occupied then by Japan for two years. And then the United States came back to reclaim Guam, and they basically carpet-bombed the entire island.

    And more people—you know, a lot of people kind of look at the personal struggle, you know, in Guam during the Japanese occupation, you know, where we were victimized and killed brutally. You know, a lot of—even my family, my grandfather’s brother was executed for smuggling food into prison to feed their families who were starving. They made him dig his own grave and killed him. And so—

    AMY GOODMAN: This was World War II?

    MELVIN WON PAT-BORJA: Right, and this is during the Japanese occupation. And so, you know, a lot of folks look at this occupation as a very—it’s a very sensitive issue. And so, in a lot of ways, you know, the Americans were seen as the liberators. But what a lot of people don’t know is that more people died in the reclaiming of Guam than in the entire two-year occupation of Guam by the Japanese. And so, you know, we have this kind of a dual identity, this sense of, you know, being an indigenous person from Guam, being an indigenous Chamorro, and having loyalty to the United States, you know? And that generation is still alive and well, you know, and there’s still a lot of folks who really feel loyal to the United States.

    You know, but in a lot of ways, we don’t have the same rights as other Americans. And that’s something that’s really important in the discussion between Guam and Okinawa. You know, a lot of folks kind of see Guam as being America. You know, when they look at the bases in Okinawa, they think, you know, this is an American problem, and these bases should be sent back to America. And so, they look then at Guam and Hawai’i as being America. And so, you know, this is the alternative. But, you know, a lot of folks don’t realize what our political status is and the struggles that we face within the political system. And so, you know, this is not just a simple thing of saying, “OK, this is America. Let’s moves them there. You know, the people of Guam want them.” You know, the reality is that there is a lot of resistance to this buildup, and it is going to impact us in so many different ways—socially, culturally, environmentally, financially. And, you know, it’s not just a simple transfer.

    ANJALI KAMAT: And Kyle Kajihiro, I want to bring you back into the discussion. Talk about how this political realignment works in Hawai’i? What does it look like from there? And also, talk about the environmental impact of these bases.

    KYLE KAJIHIRO: Right. Well, since September 11, we’ve had the largest military expansion since World War II. The military seized about 25,000 acres of land in order to station their Stryker brigade in Hawai’i. And these troops are being trained to deploy to Afghanistan and Iraq. So we have, you know, this dual role in Hawai’i of being a victim of the American empire and also an accomplice in the building of that empire. And so, we’re addressing both problems.

    The environmental impacts of the military are enormous in Hawai’i. We have—we would argue that the military is the largest polluter, with over 828 contamination sites identified. In Ke Awalau o Pu’uloa, which is the original name of Pearl Harbor, once the food basket for Oahu, with thirty-six fish ponds, is now a toxic Superfund site. More than 750 contamination sites. And we can’t eat from this life-giving treasure that’s there. And so, these are some of the manifestations that are not apparent on the surface. And even economically, with the economic influx that comes in, of course, certain people get paid, but others pay the price. And it’s usually the Native peoples who lose land, who are forced out of their housing, because of the rising cost of living. And we have a growing homeless population on the beaches, mostly Native Hawai’ians living in tents. Meanwhile, thousands of acres of military land are just across the street.

    ANJALI KAMAT: Explain how many U.S. military personnel are in Hawai’i.

    KYLE KAJIHIRO: There’s approximately 44,000 active-duty troops in Hawai’i, with another 56,000 dependents. And if you add in the retired military, it brings the military population to about 17 percent of our total population. So we’re one of the most militarized states.

    Also, I think it’s important to realize that the military has this—the impact on the environment and culture is tremendous. Native Hawai’ians need a relationship with their land. The Aina is a life-giving ancestor. So when you put up fences and you take away so much of the land from the Hawai’ian people, you’re causing the disintegration of their cultural identity. And we see this on Oahu, especially, where 22.4 percent of our island is under military occupation.

    AMY GOODMAN: Almost a quarter.

    KYLE KAJIHIRO: Almost a quarter, yeah.

    AMY GOODMAN: How do nuclear weapons fit into this picture?

    KYLE KAJIHIRO: Well, Hawai’i was one of the key command centers for U.S. during the Cold War. We had nuclear weapons stationed there. We still believe that some are being stored in facilities near Pearl Harbor in the West Loch Area. They used to be in a gulch in Waikele. But, you know, much more, Hawai’i has become the command center, if you can imagine Hawai’i as the head of an enormous octopus, and the tentacles are strangling Okinawa and Guam and the Marshall Islands and Korea. You know, we have the nerve center right there in Halawa Heights above Pearl Harbor. And when you cut off the arms of an octopus, it grows back, unless you take care of that head.

    And we see that in the Philippines, where the people’s movement got the bases out, but it’s coming—the military is coming back in, in the south, under the guise of counterinsurgency. So, you know, we have to deal with it not on a not-in-my-backyard, case-by-case basis, but I think we have to look at it as a whole—you know, what is going to bring real peace and security to our region. And we think it’s—that’s going to be based on people’s solidarity rather than hegemony.

    ANJALI KAMAT: How have things changed, if it all, under the Obama administration?


    AMY GOODMAN: That’s right. You come from his birthplace.

    KYLE KAJIHIRO: That’s right. That’s right. He wouldn’t meet with us when we went to visit him. You know, in some ways it’s made it harder for the progressive movement, because people assume that things are getting better, and yet with a Democratic-controlled Congress and the White House, there’s more military funding coming into Hawai’i and the Pacific without the ability to counter that. And, you know, Senator Inouye is now the chair of the Defense Appropriations Committee for the Senate, and so he controls the money for the military, and that’s a lot of what’s affecting us. It’s affecting Okinawa and Guam. There’s the push and pull of geopolitical strategy and the pull of self-interest and economic benefit that comes down. So the earmarks and military pork is a big part of what’s driving the buildup, I think. And in the case of Guam, we see many contractors from Hawai’i going over there to eat out of that trough, you know, and it’s really sad to see our own people benefiting on the destruction of another people’s land.

    AMY GOODMAN: Melvin Won Pat-Borja, the vote that just took place in Congress around—well, everyone talked about it as the Puerto Rico vote, that’s H.R. 2499,—Guam Congress Member Madeleine Bordallo said, “H.R. 2499 is not just important for the people of Puerto Rico, it is important for all Americans living in the Territories. Each territory, including Guam, must choose its own path to self-determination. That is why I introduced legislation providing federal funds for political status education for Guam so that we can begin our own process.” Talk about the significance of this.

    MELVIN WON PAT-BORJA: Well, you know, I think the important thing to note here is that Guam was never really given the opportunity for self-determination. And on top of that, there’s not much—there hasn’t been much education at all about self-determination. You know, I think that the people in Guam live in constant fear that what happened in World War II with the Japanese occupation will happen again. And that’s—you know, that fear is being used to really drive this buildup.

    You know, we’re kind of seeing this buildup as, you know, an increase in our security, when in reality, you know, when you have a base so large on Guam, you know, it really makes Guam a target. And I mean, the only reason why, you know, Guam was invaded by the Japanese military in World War II is because it was an American territory.

    And so, you know, I think that with self-determination, you know, it really gives our people the opportunity to choose for themselves what they want their political status to be. It gives us the opportunity to be educated about what those choices could mean for us, and how we can—you know, how we can grow not only as a people but economically, and how we operate within the region. You know, historically, we have connections. All of our islands have connections. You know, we’ve always migrated and traded with each other. And this is something that’s been completely destroyed with things like political status. You know, becoming an unincorporated territory has been very detrimental to us. You know, the only positive thing that has come out of this is U.S. citizenship, which really was something that had to be done because our people were being severely mistreated, you know, after we were claimed by the United States.

    I mean, our island, for example, is a chain of islands, just like Hawai’i. You know, people look at—when you think about Hawai’i, you think about Hawai’i as a chain of islands. You don’t think about Hawai’i as just Oahu, even though that’s, you know, the main island where the capital is located. Nobody thinks of it as just Oahu. But Guam, you know, Guam has this kind of like isolated identity. And nobody talks about Saipan, Tinian, Rota, you know, and the other islands in our chain. And we’re all the same indigenous people. But our political status has separated us as a people.

    AMY GOODMAN: These are the Northern Mariana Islands?

    MELVIN WON PAT-BORJA: Right. And so, they—you know, their political status is a commonwealth. And our political status is a U.S. territory. And now, even with this buildup issue, you know, we’re seeing how this separation and this—you know, this imposed sense of rivalry is really playing against us. You know, we’re fighting this thing in Guam, saying, you know, that this is not going to be good for our island and its people. And then we have, you know, the islands and—the other islands, you know, who are starting to think, “Well, maybe if Guam doesn’t want them, then maybe you should come here. Let us get some of that federal money.” And, you know, this identity crisis that we have, you know, is really just being a divisive force between our people.

    AMY GOODMAN: How did you get involved in this issue?

    MELVIN WON PAT-BORJA: I got heavily involved with this specific issue when the DEIS was released in Guam. You know, your average DEIS is about a hundred pages long.

    AMY GOODMAN: And the DEIS means?

    MELVIN WON PAT-BORJA: Draft Environmental Impact Study[Statement]. And so, you know, when they—your average DEIS is a hundred pages long, you get 45 days to respond. A lengthy DEIS is 350 pages long, and you get usually 90 days to respond. Our DEIS for this Guam military buildup was 11,000 pages long, and we were given 90 days to respond.

    And so, you know, we—when this document was released, we started off just—you know, simple protests. We were just upset. We didn’t really know what to do. And so, eventually, we figured, you know, the average person on Guam is not going to read 11,000 pages, and we really felt like this was deliberately done to us so that we wouldn’t read it and so that we wouldn’t know what was going on and so that we would just accept the things that were being fed to us in the media, the things that were being fed to us by, you know, JGPO, the Joint Guam Program Office, who’s overseeing this move. And what we did was we decided, you know, let’s put together a bunch of folks, and let’s split this thing up, and let’s read it. Let’s do our homework, and let’s disseminate the information to the people.

    And, you know, the more that we read and the more that we understood what was really going to happen in Guam, and how it was really going to affect us, you know, the more outraged we became. And, you know, slowly but surely, the community started to come around and started to see that this is not just going to be this economic stimulus. You know, this is not going to be something that’s just going to bring all these great jobs to Guam and cure the poverty in Guam. You know, this is something that’s going to really impact us.

    I mean, the U.S. EPA just reviewed the DEIS, and they gave it the lowest possible rating that a DEIS can receive. They labeled it “environmentally unsatisfactory.” And they said that the buildup cannot—cannot go on as planned. They said that our water system can’t handle 80,000 people, that we won’t have enough water for those—for the additional population; our wastewater system can’t handle it; and that we risk contaminating our fresh water lands with runoff and other problems dealing with the impact that it will have on that wastewater system. So, I mean, you know, the more that we became aware of the issues facing Guam with this specific buildup, the more the community has started to mobilize and really take action against it.

    AMY GOODMAN: You’re here in New York for a conference that took place over the weekend, the International Conference for a Nuclear-Free, Peaceful, Just and Sustainable World. But how are you organizing the islands?

    KYLE KAJIHIRO: Well, there’s a new network that formed in 2007 in Ecuador: the International Network for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases. And so, our islands were part of that gathering, that historic gathering. And it’s caused—it’s created new opportunities for us to network and build solidarity. So, for example, when the Okinawans demonstrated a few weeks ago, there were demonstrations in Japan, in Hawai’i, in Washington D.C. Folks are starting to mobilize in new ways in support the Chamorro struggle. And the Okinawans and Chamorros and Hawai’ians are supporting each other, which is, you know, a new development, I think. And this is causing Okinawans to also question their political line. They can’t say, “Go to Guam, go to Hawai’i” anymore. We have to talk about the region and what’s going to bring peace and security for all of us.

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