Monday, May 24, 2010

Democracy Now! "From Japan to Guam to Hawai’i, Activists Resist Expansion of US Military Presence in the Pacific"

Today's Democracy Now! program featured an interview with Amy Goodman, Anjali Kamat and three peace, democracy, and anti-colonial activists in the Asia-Pacific:
In Japan, Prime Minister Yukio Hatoyama sparked outrage this weekend when he announced he has decided to keep an American air base on the island of Okinawa.

Before last year’s historic election victory, Hatoyama had vowed to move the base off of Okinawa or even out of Japan. On Sunday, he said he had decided to relocate the base to the north side of the island, as originally agreed upon with the US. Hatoyama’s decision was met with anger on Okinawa, where 90,000 residents rallied last month to oppose the base.

A number of activists opposed to US military bases were recently here in New York for the International Conference for a Nuclear-Free, Peaceful, Just and Sustainable World. Anjali Kamat and I spoke to three activists from Japan, Guam and Hawai’i.

Kyle Kajihiro, Program Director for the American Friends Service Committee in Hawai’i. He helps to coordinate the DMZ-Hawai’i / Aloha ’Aina network that opposes military expansion in Hawai’i.

Kozue Akibayashi, professor and activist in Japan and with the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom and the Women’s International Network Against Militarism.

Melvin Won Pat-Borja, educator and poet from Guam and part of the We Are Guahan network opposed to the military base buildup in Guam.

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 US troops invaded and occupied the sovereign kingdom of Hawai’i to establish a forward base that enabled the US 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 US 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 US 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 US military base. Explain what’s going on with Japan-US relations and with US 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 forty-seven, where US military—75 percent of US military facilities, exclusively used by the US military, is located. So there is this high concentration of US 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 ten 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 US 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 US 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 US 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 US 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 thirty-one 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.


ANJALI KAMAT: Melvin, talk about what it was like to grow up in the shadow of these US 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 US 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 US 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 US 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...
Read the rest of the interview here.

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