Sunday, February 28, 2010

A Letter to President and First Lady Obama from WGS

February 14, 2010

Dear President & Michelle Obama,

As you prepare to make a stop over in Guam next month, en route to Australia and Indonesia, we ask that you take the opportunity to meet with Guam Senators and community members including women of Fuetsen Famalao’an.

As commander-in-chief of the military and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and with your experience growing up in Hawaii and working as a community organizer you are uniquely qualified to listen to what they have to say about the proposed military build up on Guam, a small island with an already fragile ecosystem.

We are writing this letter on behalf of 100 women who gathered in Guåhan (Guam) September 14-19, 2009 for the International Women’s Network Against Militarism conference entitled, “Resistance, Resilience and Respect for Human Rights” (Chinemma, Nina’maolek, yan Inarespetu para Direchon Tao’tao). We came from Australia, Belau, Chuuk, Guåhan, Hawai’i, Japan, Okinawa, Northern Marianas Islands, Palau, the Philippines, Puerto Rico, South Korea and mainland United States.

We are mothers, grandmothers, young women, students, teachers, professors, social workers, religious workers, and community organizers in our respective communities.

We gathered in Guåhan for our 7th international women’s conference because of the imminent transfer of some 9,000 U.S. Marines, plus their 20,000 dependents and a further 20,000 foreign contract workers to Guåhan under the proposed Military Re-alignment plan. During our weeklong meeting, we heard testimony and panel presentations, visited important sacred sites, and observed numerous U.S. military installations around the island.

We heard many local concerns about the extensive military installations that already cover 1/3 of this small island (30 miles long and 8 miles wide, comparable to the size of Moloka’i), and some of the negative effects associated with them, such as contamination, crime and prostitution. Already the local population cannot eat the fish, drink the water, or grow their own food. Guåhan has twice the infant mortality rate as the U.S. mainland, and 1997% times the rate of nasal-pharyngeal cancer. We were touched by the Chamorro people’s deep love for their land, honoring their ancestors and providing for their future generations. They expressed deep concern about the impact of an additional 9,000 troops (potentially an additional 50,000 people) and the impact this would have on their already weak infrastructure, fragile ecosystem, and quality of life.

As you have lived in Hawai’i you are probably aware of how a major military presence can impact the local community, although some effects may be hidden from plain view.

In our discussions in Guåhan we noticed a pattern that brings about increased insecurity, particularly for women and for local communities that host U.S. bases or military personnel. What we observed in Guåhan is occurring in the other partner locations in our network: the Philippines, Korea, Okinawa, mainland Japan, Hawai’i, and Puerto Rico. The following are patterns we observed and heard repeatedly about the impact of U.S. military bases:

1. Violence Against Women

Local women live in fear because of the harassment, crime and violence committed by U.S. military personnel. For example, U.S. troops commit 95% of abductions and rape cases in Okinawa. In February 2008, a U.S. Marine sexually assaulted a 14-year-old Okinawan girl. A week later, a 22-year-old Filipina woman in Okinawa was raped by a U.S. soldier. And these are not isolated cases.

Under Status of Forces Agreements (SOFAs) and Visiting Forces Agreements with the United States, governments that host U.S. bases, such as Japan, Korea, and the Philippines, do not have adequate authority to protect local women, prosecute U.S. military personnel, or provide redress for crimes committed against local women.

Beyond this issue, a rise in prostitution and trafficking goes hand in hand with U.S. military bases and R&R sites, especially in the Asia Pacific region. Increasingly, poor women are being trafficked into the sex industry, and those working in this industry typically experience life-long trauma.

2. Environmental Harm

U.S. military bases generate noise and many negative impacts on air, soil, water and human health, threatening the sustainability of the environment and people’s lives, both now and for future generations.

Bases that have been closed such as in the Philippines (1992) and the bombing ranges in Vieques (2003) have still not been decontaminated and devolved for use by local communities.

Environmental contamination has been linked to high rates of cancer in communities alongside military fencelines. Guåhan and Vieques have no cancer treatment facilities, so people must spend their limited resources to travel elsewhere to receive the costly medical care they need.

3. Economic Impacts

Current U.S. military spending is more than $2 billion per day. This is a huge burden and expense, especially during these severe economic times -- in the U.S. and globally -- where these resources could be used to meet the many needs in health care, education, and economic development.

The U.S. delegates to the Guåhan conference came from California, where state budget cuts have taken a toll on many social services such as education and health care. This school year $580 million was cut from public higher education in California, with huge increases in costs of tuition and student fees. Academic departments have been shut down, classrooms are overcrowded, and teachers are being laid off. 10,000 eligible students were denied admission to public higher education this year. For youth who cannot afford to go to college, or who cannot find employment, joining the military is increasingly their only option.

Internationally, the U.S. military presence has distorted economic development in other countries because people’s access to land is cut off by bases, and local economies become geared towards servicing the U.S. military. For example, prior to WWII, Guåhan was self-sufficient in agricultural production. Today, 90% of its food is imported. Prostitution, bars and a service economy dependent on exploitation of cheap labor or trafficked persons typify the distorted economic development that accompanies U.S. military bases in the countries in our network.

4. Socio-cultural Impacts

U.S. military bases have a large impact on social-cultural development, democracy, and the voice and self-determination of local communities.

In Guåhan, Hawai’i, Okinawa, and other places, ancestral lands and burial sites are currently occupied and even being used for bombing and firing practice by the military.

Guåhan remains a non-self governing territory of the United States and the Chamorro people have no right of self-determination. Guåhan is on the United Nations list of 16 remaining colonies worldwide. An additional influx of outsiders, due to the military buildup, would further strain the culture, voice and sovereignty of indigenous Chamorro people on Guam.

As we observed these things and understood that they are part of a larger pattern, we were overcome with feelings of fear, sadness, pain, frustration, and anger. As women and as leaders in our communities, we are concerned about basic human needs, primarily the everyday security of our families and communities. Women in all our communities need safety, health care and prevention from harm, as well as the protection and care of our environment. We need to be able to participate in decisions affecting our communities and homelands. We need respect and consideration for our people’s land and our ancestors.

We believe that you may be able to understand these needs and request that you use the authority of your position to do the following:

1. Please consider and address the environmental, social, and community impacts the planned military build-up will have on Guåhan and do everything you can to stop it. When you visit Guåhan, please talk to members of Fuetsen Famalao’an, an organization of respected women (Guam Senators, University of Guam professors, and other professionals) who have come together out of concern about the military buildup. Dr. Vivian Dames, former Guam Senator Hope Cristobal, and Dr. Lisa Natividad are all at the University of Guam. As residents of a U.S. territory, none of them have any representation with voting power in the U.S. Congress.

2. Please consider the burden of Okinawan communities that disproportionately host U.S. bases in Japan. Okinawa is 0.6% of the Japanese land area, yet bears 75% of the burden of U.S. bases in Japan. It has been repeatedly stated that 8,000 Marines will be transferred to Guam to “reduce the burden” of Okinawa, but Okinawans are wondering why this is tied to building a new Marines base in Henoko? Please consider measures to reduce the numbers of troops overall, stop the building of yet another new base in Okinawa, and do not redirect Okinawa’s burden to Guåhan.

3. Re-examine and follow the existing Visiting Forces Agreement (VFA) between the U.S. and the Philippines. Serious violations have taken place that require detailed review, such as the presence of bases in Mindanao and jurisdiction over U.S. soldiers who commit crimes in the Philippines. Investigate the arguments of the numerous women’s and community groups who are pushing for the VFA to be repealed.

4. Support and promote legislation comparable to HR 1613 that has been introduced in Congress to amend the Radiation Exposure Compensation Act to include the Territory of Guam in the list of affected “downwind” areas with respect to the atmospheric nuclear testing that took place in Micronesia.

5. Support the Republic of the Marshall Islands Changed Circumstances Petition submitted to Congress for adequate compensation for personal injuries, property damage, medical care programs, and radiological monitoring related to the nuclear testing program conducted in the Marshall Islands.

6. Reduce future U.S. military aid to the Philippines government and enforce existing human rights conditions on current U.S. military aid to the Philippines. The clearly orchestrated massacre of 57 people in Maguindanao and countless other disappearances and extra-judicial killings reveal that there is very little accountability for U.S. weapons, military training, and military funding going to the Philippines Armed Forces.

7. Champion the clean up of toxic waste left behind in the Philippines and Puerto Rico since U.S. bases closed so that devolution to local communities can take place. The U.S. is building new bases when old bases still have not been cleaned up.

As recipient of the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize, we ask you to consider these requests as part of the work of creating peace and genuine security in this world. Any decision to go to war, to send more troops for training or deployment has effects on thousands of other local communities, and long-term impact on the land and health of our global future.

Sincerely,

Delegates of the 2009 International Women’s Network Against Militarism meeting in Guåhan (Guam), active with the following organizations:

Guåhan: Famoksaiyan and Fuetsen Famalao’an
Hawai’i: DMZ-Hawai’i/Aloha ‘Aina
Korea: Du Rae Bang (My Sister’s Place), the National Campaign to Eradicate Crime by U.S. Troops in Korea, and SAFE Korea
Okinawa: Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence
Philippines: Philippine Women's Network on Peace and Security
Puerto Rico: Ilé, Inc./Organizers for Consciousness-in-Action and Alianza de Mujeres Viequenses (Viequenses Women's Allinace)
United States: Women for Genuine Security

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