HAGATNA, GUAM – Despite revisions planned to the impending U.S. military buildup on this Pacific island territory, foremost of which is the expected reduction in U.S. Marines to be transferred from Japan, Guamanians remain concerned with the repercussions.
Under a 2006 road map on the realignment of U.S. forces in Japan, the headquarters of the 3rd Marine Expeditionary Force was to be moved to Guam.
Under the plan, tangible progress on relocating U.S. Marine Corps Air Station Futenma elsewhere in Okinawa was a precondition for transferring around 8,000 of the 18,000 marines and their dependents from the prefecture to the U.S. territory.
However, Washington recently confirmed that about 4,700 of the 8,000 Okinawa marines will move to Guam.
“I do believe that whether it’s 8,000 marines or 5,000 marines, there are still impacts to our infrastructure. And whether they are permanently deployed or rotational, they’re all going to use our roads, turn on our water faucets, flush the toilets, and there will be an impact,” Guam Gov. Eddie Calvo said in an interview.
Social activist Leevin Camacho estimates the majority of the people on Guam are unhappy with at least one part of the buildup.
“I’m not optimistic that they’re going to try to take care of the civilians,” said Camacho, a lawyer and member of the “We Are Guahan” network opposed to the base buildup on Guam.
Camacho cites the rising costs of rental housing and utilities, the potential impact on cultural and archaeological sites, and general safety as among his concerns. The island is already home to around 10,000 service members at Andersen Air Force Base and a U.S. naval base.
And with a projected population boom, the native Chamorros, who represent close to 40 percent of the nearly 180,000 people on the island, fear getting pushed further into the minority, said Michael Lujan Bevacqua, a professor at the University of Guam.
“People on Guam are still supportive of the U.S. military, of the U.S. government. But they aren’t sure about this buildup. They don’t like the way it was planned because when this was announced, Guam wasn’t included in the negotiations,” he said.
“It always has this feeling of being disrespected or treated as a second-class,” Bevacqua said.
Camacho cited a legal fight over the ancient village of Pagat as representative of the struggle.
When the Defense Department initially picked a site near Pagat for its planned firing range complex, Camacho led the filing of a lawsuit against it, citing the need to preserve what the Chamorros say is a valuable link to their ancestors.
The case was dismissed in December after the Pentagon decided to do another study at a potential site on its property in the southern part of the island, known as the Naval Magazine.
“As far as the government of Guam is concerned, if they can fit in at Naval Magazine, and both (the Naval Magazine and Pagat sites) are equally weighed, we prefer Naval Magazine. We’d prefer to stay away from the Pagat area because of the cultural sensitivities involved,” said Arthur Clark, Calvo’s chief policy adviser.
“I think they still want to take Pagat. That’s just my gut. For one, it’s new land for them to take, Camacho said, noting how the U.S. government managed in the past to own and control close to 30 percent of the island’s area.