Thursday, March 4, 2010

New Japan-U.S. Citizens for Okinawa (JUCON) network reaches out to American people on Okinawa base issue

With time running out on the contentious Futenma airbase relocation issue, a coalition of Japan-based NGOs, citizens groups, journalists and prominent individuals have joined hands with their U.S.-based counterparts to draw upon one as-of-yet untapped resource: American popular opinion.

Named the Japan-U.S. Citizens for Okinawa (JUCON), the initiative announced its first project as a fund collection to take out a full-page ad in a mainstream U.S. newspaper. Members hope to draw readers’ attention to problems associated with the planned transfer of the US military base at Futenma base to Henoko, an environmentally sensitive coral reef in northwestern Okinawa, home to the critically endangered dugong, a Japanese national monument and protected species.

JUCON was officially launched on Wednesday at the Lower House of the Japanese Diet. Several members spoke emphatically about the enormous burden existing U.S. military bases already pose upon Okinawa’s population and ecosystem—and the need for restraint in building more facilities.

“While continuing to focus attention on the problems associated with relocating the Futenma facility to Henoko Bay, we must also keep one eye on the larger context—which includes plans to build helipads in Takae village,” said keynote speaker Makishi Yoshikazu, an Okinawa-based architect and one of the plaintiffs in Japan's domestic dugong lawsuit.

“I find it extremely problematic that the U.S. government is asking for more helipads without providing any information about why and how these facilities—nor the existing 15 helipads—will be used in the future,” he continued.

“What’s more, the U.S. is refusing to provide any environmental assessment--using the technical justification that none is required since these are ‘helipads’ and not 'heliports'”. Purple: Existing 15 helipad facilities; Blue: 7 facilities to be returned; Pink: 6 new proposed helipad construction sites

Makishi writes at his website:
The untold truth is that the U.S. military has plans to locate dangerous Osprey aircraft in Henoko—which will then be flown to Takae in the Yanbaru forest in order to carry out jungle warfare training exercises
The website--a comprehensive resource (in Japanese)--includes links to You Tube videos showing test runs and actual crashes of the lumbering, unsafe aircraft.

In addition to Makishi, other JUCON speakers at the press conference included Hoshikawa Jun, the executive director of Greenpeace, Japan; Nohira Shinsaku of Peace Boat; and Hanawa Shin-ichi from the World Wide Fund for Nature.

Their presentations were followed by comments from the floor, where one attendee emphasized, “It is critical that average citizens be truthfully informed about the details of this issue.”

Another noted, “I sincerely hope that JUCON will be able to bring home the following point to people in the United States: that what we are actually talking about here is the loss of life itself.”

Speakers at JUCO's inaugural event, with banner reading "No Bases Wanted in Oura Bay or Anywhere in Okinawa!"

On the train later that day, I looked through the new NGO's pamphlet, entitled "2010: International Year of the Dugong” and “Henoko, Oura Bay, the Blue Coral Ocean: Why Our Biodiversity is so Rich." Both made clear in beautiful photographs all that is at stake. I then began thumbing through the packet of documents obtained from public U.S. military records that were also handed out at the meeting. I was shocked by repeated descriptions of the military base options being discussed in Okinawa as “landfills” vs. “near-shore steel carpets".

The thought of Okinawa’s pristine beauty, gentle dugong, gorgeous coral reefs, and thriving ocean ecosystem being threatened by either a “landfill” or a “steel carpet” is enough to invoke outrage. This is a sentiment that I myself experienced several years ago, when I visited Henoko and Takae and met with peaceful sit-in protesters at the Tent Village on the beach who have been protesting the proposed construction since the plan was announced in 1996. JUCO hopes to invoke the same outrage in U.S. citizens to encourage their support of a resolution to the Futenma issue that support and affirms life—not destroys it—by closing down the base and scrapping plans to relocate within the prefecture.

John Feffer, in his article,"Pacific Pushback: Has the U.S. Empire of Bases Reached Its High-Water Mark?," astutely points out another aspect to the situation that is worthy of arousing Americans' suspicion about what is being proposed in Okinawa in their name:
Failure to relocate the Futenma base within Okinawa might be the first step down a slippery slope that could potentially put at risk billions of dollars in Cold War weapons still in the production line. It’s hard to justify buying all the fancy toys without a place to play with them.
Yesterday, The Japan Times published an article about the new JUCO network, and the blog of US for Okinawa includes a post with the text of the speech delivered by organizer Rose Welsch at Wednesday’s press conference. The blog also includes a link to a petition calling for the closure of Futenma and no new military base construction in Okinawa.

JUCON is creating a website in English, which we will link to shortly. The Japanese language website is here.

--Kimberly Hughes

1 comment:

Jean said...

Hi Kim,

Thanks for this report. The situation in Takae sounds as ominous as Henoko.

The quote you picked from John Feffer is spot on.

I just read about a navy officer being disciplined for drag racing guided missile destroyers off the coast of Okinawa. One of the military reports said this is common "to boost morale."

This is what Americans and Japanese paying taxes for -- to terrorize Okinawans with drag-racing warships off their coast.

She allegedly rammed a whale and told her crew not to take photos of it. She also abused her crew members

This is one of the kinder reports.