Decolonization Supporters Oppose Guam Plebiscite Plan

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Pacific Islands Development Program, East-West Center With Support From Center for Pacific Islands Studies, University of Hawai‘i

Governor’s plan for November vote criticized

By Maria Hernandez

HAGÅTÑA, Guam (Pacific Daily News, April 5, 2016) – A coalition of organizations that has supported decolonization efforts expressed "deep concern and outrage" on Monday over Gov. Eddie Calvo’s plan to "rush a political status vote" by the November election, according to a letter from the coalition.

The organizations — Fuetsan Famalao’an, Independence for Guam Task Force, Nasion Chamoru and Our Islands Are Sacred — addressed the letter to "Taotao Guahan" or "People of Guam."

During his State of the Island Address on Thursday, Calvo announced a plan to hold a status vote — or plebiscite —during this year’s general election.

The vote would be a nonbinding, because changing Guam’s political status takes an act of Congress.

On Friday, Calvo attempted to submit a draft measure of the plebiscite to the Guam Election Commission, but there was an issue with paperwork. Adelup strategic planning adviser Troy Torres on Friday said they planned to file the paperwork Monday, but GEC Executive Director Maria Pangelinan said nothing was filed.

An Adelup spokesperson was not immediately available Monday afternoon to comment on whether the governor’s office has decided to delay the filing or has chosen not to file.

In their letter, the groups raised various concerns, including discontent in the governor’s proposal to open the vote to all registered voters of Guam.

"Guam’s native inhabitants have already lost so much in the nearly 500 years of their colonization. They should not also lose the right to determine their own destiny as people in their homeland," the letter states. By allowing all residents to vote, the governor’s proposal "further disempowers the native people of Guam, who have every right to make this decision on their own."

Torres on Friday said that while all voters will be able to weigh in on Guam’s political status, only the vote of native inhabitants will count toward the vote of Chamorro self-determination. The right of native inhabitants to determine their status option is recognized by both the United Nations and the United States.

Even though only the votes of native inhabitants would count toward a decision, Independence for Guam Task Force member Victoria-Lola Leon Guerrero said opening the vote to all residents diminishes the voice of the colonized people.

She added it could open up the possibility of all votes being considered in the end.

"We don’t want to put our community out there and take the risk of all registered voters overshadowing the votes of native inhabitants when the decision is made," she said.

Instead of taking a "unilateral" approach toward this decision, the letter states, the governor should be working with the decolonization commission, the Guam Legislature and other stakeholders to determine a reasonable timeline to educate the public for the vote.

Leon Guerrero said she felt the next four months wouldn’t be enough time to fully educate the public about each of the status options — independence, statehood or free association.

Torres said the timeline isn’t exactly set in stone.

Torres referenced Calvo’s address, in which the governor stated an education campaign would take place from now until July. In July, the plan is to return back to the table to assess whether there is enough momentum to move forward with a vote.

"We’ll have that honest discussion in July," Torres said.

Calvo, in his address, called the timetable for the education campaign "realistic."

"We just have to be committed to it," the governor stated, according to a transcript of his address.

Torres said the governor is asking the Chamorro people to give the proposal a chance.

"Leading an education campaign won’t hurt anyone. It can only benefit the process," he said.

Torres said "it’s time for someone to actually act."

"I’m not entirely sure what kicking the can along the road does for anybody," Torres said. "We’ve got to pick a date and stick to it and do everything possible to make sure this community is prepared to vote. We can’t be kicking this can down the road with no end in sight to this thing."

The letter also accuses Calvo of undermining the role of the Commission on Decolonization by making a decision on when the political status vote will occur — a decision the commission was scheduled to debate at a Tuesday meeting.

According to the letter, the decolonization commission was scheduled to meet Tuesday to determine a year the plebiscite could "responsibly occur," accounting for the time needed to educate the community about the vote.

At the group’s last meeting, the members had decided to go back to their respective task forces and consult with them so they could decide at Tuesday’s meeting which year to hold the plebiscite and work toward that date.

The letter states the governor, who is chairperson of the commission, wasn’t at the commission’s last meeting held about two months ago, and has only attended two meetings in his six years in office.

"If he had been there, he would have been part of this important conversation, and would have heard from the body that it was legally created to make this decision," the letter states.

Torres said the governor would be heading the Tuesday meeting.

Torres said Adelup "wants to work with everybody, especially the people who have been involved in this for a very long time."

"We’re trying to get this process done with action and commitment and organization," he said.

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