A NEW SLAP TO LONG-SUFFERING MARSHALL ISLANDERS

Editorial

Yokwe Online

MAJURO, Marshall Islands (June 1) - Guam, 1,500 miles away from ground-zero in the Marshall Islands, is now considered eligible for compensation from nuclear testing of the Cold War era.

Officials of the United States Department of Justice Radiation Exposure and Compensation Program informed Guam leaders and Delegate Madeleine Bordallo during a teleconference on May 28.

Marshallese from testing epicenters at Bikini Atoll, Enewetak, and close "downwind" islands are not as lucky.

Talk about a slap in the face.

This year, Marshall Islanders have felt the sting of several slaps in the face: The shut-down of the health program; the cut-off of funding for its environmental field missions; and "a full and final settlement" to compensation claims to Marshall Islands victims specified in new Compact.

Even far more disgraceful is the U.S. administration's four-year delay in responding to the Republic of the Marshall Isalnds Changed Circumstances Petition. The Petition requests, at the least, equity in health care and clean-up as provided to U.S. citizens who were exposed to radiation.

Washington has yet to fulfill a promise made 50 years ago, and unfortunately, Marshallese are not eligible for the DOJ Compensation Program.

Guam residents are now elated to be approved for compensation from those very same tests.

In fact, officials said that if Guam succeeds in getting recognition from Congress, it will set a precedent and people from the Northern Marianas, Palau, Federated States of Micronesia and other islands should seek radiation exposure compensation, according to the Marianas Variety.

Can we include the Marshalls, too?

On March 24, Bordallo spoke before the National Research Council to Assess the Scientific Information for the Radiation Exposure Screening and Education Program. She asked the Committee to consider Guam in fulfilling its Congressional mandate.

What about promises to review the Marshalls' situation made by Congress during Compact negotiations?

Robert Celestial, president of Guam's Pacific Association of Radiation Survivors, said that it is important that U.S. officials acknowledged that "it happened in Guam," according to the Variety.

"Happened in Guam?"

A Guam spokesperson said that compensation will not be given in lump sum to the government of Guam, but the funds will go directly to affected individuals. There are two categories: "onsite participant" and "downwinder."

"The DOJ initially identified Guam as onsite participant, but is also inclined to consider it for the downwinder compensation," said activist Celestial.

Downwinders in the U.S. receive full funding for their awards within six weeks, according to Dr. Holly Barker, Senior Advisor to the RMI Embassy in Washington, D.C.

Dr. Barker and other advisors recently briefed U.S. Congressional committee staff concerning the Changed Circumstances Petition. The U.S. government conducted its nuclear weapons testing program in the Marshall Islands because it recognized the hazards of these activities," said Barker.

The 6.3 billion curies of Iodine-131 released into the atmosphere during Marshall Islands testing was 42 times greater than testing in Nevada, and 8,500 times greater than that released from AEC operations at Hanford, Washington.

The destructive force of the "BRAVO" bomb was 1,000 times greater than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima and created a mile-wide crater in the reef of Bikini Atoll.

Are there any craters on Guam? Did radioactive "snow" fall on its inhabitants? Did Guam feel the direct impact of 67 detonations over a twelve-year period?

It's true that across the Pacific and across the U.S. continent, people have been exposed. So, is the U.S. going to pay out compensation to everyone?

Go ahead. Just take care of ground-zero - the Marshalls - first.

It's also true that Marshallese, with the highest rate of cancer in the world and continued health problems due to displacement from poisoned islands, are being short-changed. It's also true, that while the U.S. invests "billions" of dollars around the world, it does not have the "millions" to clean-up atolls used in testing.

Despite many "slaps", the Marshalls still stands unwaveringly as a U.S. ally and friend.

Some might think we have "turned the other cheek" one time too many.

June 3, 2004

Yokwe Online: www.yokwe.net

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