HAGATNA, GUAM – Guam this week marked the 69th anniversary of its liberation from wartime Japanese forces, holding a parade at the historic Marine Corps Drive in the capital.
Several war memorial activities across the U.S. territory were organized in the runup to the liberation day last Sunday, with residents holding religious services to pray for those who fell during the war.
“(But) it’s not total liberation. It’s only liberation from the Japanese,” said Robert Underwood, University of Guam president and the Pacific island’s former delegate to the U.S. House of Representatives.
Guam was under Japanese control between 1941 and 1944, a period marred by abuses against local people.
“It’s been 69 years since our liberation. Seven decades since our parents and grandparents survived the worst of war. They were slaves, forced to work, they were starving, beaten, raped and murdered,” Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo said recently.
Antonio Sablan, a resident of the island, said that July 21, 1944, was not just the day when his family was freed from Japanese rule but also the day when U.S. forces recaptured the island. According to Sablan, American forces seized private property and land, including that of his family.
And he is upset that Guam remains practically a U.S. colony.
“If I was liberated, how come you have my kitchen and my living room? How come you have my house?” Sablan asked, citing the U.S. military’s ownership of about a third of the island.
Sablan is just one of the many local residents who protested after the U.S. military was allowed to take over private land after World War II.
“The entire Andersen Air Force Base is sitting on my family’s land. In my heart, that is still our family’s land,” he said.
Sablan further said that he and many other residents feel like second-class U.S. citizens.
Guam’s official political status is that of an “unincorporated territory” of the United States, “where fundamental rights apply as a matter of law, but other constitutional rights are not available,” meaning residents cannot vote in U.S. presidential elections if they are based on the island, despite their American citizenship.
“Guam is a colony. The federal government has the final say on everything. It’s a colonial relationship,” Underwood said. “Of course, in the end it’s not healthy.”
In fact, the way the U.S. administers the island is contrary to the principles of democracy, he continued.
“The whole notion of representative democracy is about consent of the governed. The people who are being governed give you consent in order to govern them. So, you vote for somebody. And that person makes a law. That law affects you,” he said. “Well, we don’t have that here.
“So when the U.S. Congress passes a law, we still have to obey that. We can’t say, ‘We’re not obeying it because we never gave consent.’ That’s an indicator that this is a very undemocratic, very un-American system,” he said, noting that the people of Tahiti, a semiautonomous territory of France, enjoy full political and civil rights.
By agreeing with the U.N. classification of Guam as a “nonself-governing territory,” the United States, as a signatory to the U.N. Charter, recognizes that the island’s indigenous people, the Chamorros, deserve the right to self-determination, Guam Sen. Vicente Pangelinan said in an interview.
With many residents, especially the Chamorros, desiring political self-determination, Gov. Calvo has impaneled the Guam Commission on Decolonization to determine which status people would prefer: independence, integration, or a relationship based on the Compact of Free Association pact, which would turn Guam into an associate state of the U.S.
“That is a decision that needs to be made by our people. We are hopeful that we can work with the U.S. Congress in achieving that aim,” Calvo said, adding the process could take time due to a number of financial and bureaucratic obstacles.
Pangelinan said that so far, only 8,000 or so people have signed up for the Decolonization Registry, which requires 20,000-plus signatories.
When Underwood was asked about the low number, he responded: “If somebody puts up a fence in your neighborhood, at first, you think that’s an awful thing. But after 10 years, 20 years, or 50 years, you think the fence is normal. That’s what happened.”
He added that many underprivileged people, Chamorros in particular, benefit from government subsidies for health care and education and thus prefer not to become actively involved in seeking change to the status quo.
Proactive residents like Sablan, however, said reform is still possible.
“I believe that no matter how long it takes, even if it’s just a little man with a small chisel or ice pick to break an iceberg, as long as he continues chipping, maybe not in my lifetime, but in the future, something will happen,” Sablan said, urging his fellow residents to “decolonize” their way of thinking.