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Bikini DayFor a nuclear weapon-free world:
Roles of anti-nuclear peace movements in Asia-Pacific
February 28, 2012
2012 Bikini Day International Forum

Leevin Taitano Camacho
Member, We Are Guåhan, Guam

Håfa adai, my name is Leevin Camacho and I am an indigenous person of Guam.  The United States is currently proposing a massive “military buildup” on Guam as part of its Asia-Pacific “pivot.”  A lot of attention has focused on the planned movement of thousands of marines to Guam that was – until this month – explicitly linked to the construction of the Futenma Replacement Facility at Henoko.  I would like to talk to you today about the role of activism on Guam and how these actions can fit into the movement in Asia-Pacific for a nuclear weapon-free world.    

Most of the advocacy I have been involved in deals with the significant negative effects the proposed buildup would have on Guam’s social, cultural and environmental resources.  The general public did not know about the full range of environmental and cultural impacts the proposed buildup would have on the island until the release of the Draft Environmental Impact Statement, or EIS, in November 2009.  For example, DOD plans on destroying over 800 hectares of forest to build new housing for Marines and their dependents.  DOD plans on destroying over 28 hectares of coral reef to accommodate a nuclear aircraft carrier.  DOD also plans on “acquiring” over 725 hectares of land and building a firing range complex even though it currently controls more than ¼ of the entire island.  To give some perspective, Guam is only 550 km2, which is less than half the size of Okinawa.  This “firing range complex” would be over an ancient indigenous burial site and operated along a major road and within a half-mile of homes. 
For many years, the only number that mattered was $11 billion, or the total estimated construction costs of a brand new Marine Corps base on Guam.  Of this amount, the Japanese government would pay $2.8 billion in direct cash contributions and $3.29 billion in loans and investments.  Last year, the United States Government Accountability Office issued a report stating that Government of Guam estimated the cost of taking care of up to 79,000 more people on the island – an increase in population of over 50% - would cost approximately $3.2 billion.   The GAO report estimated that the total cost estimates for the buildup on Guam, including the cost to the Government of Guam for the impacts on the civilian community and the cost of repaying the Japanese loans and investments, would actually be closer to $23.9 billion.  Assuming that the United States moved 8,600 marines and 9,000 dependents, the total cost of a new Marine Corps base on Guam – not including operation costs – would be about $1.35 million per person.    

The group that I have been involved in – We Are Guåhan – has used a variety of tools to educate people about the potential impacts on Guam. We have taken people on hikes to sites that will be affected by the proposed buildup. We have released summaries of the Environmental Impact Statement with key points for people who are too busy to read through the 10,000 page document.  Our members consistently post news stories on our Facebook public forum, which today has over 2,300 subscribers.  

We Are Guåhan was also part of a lawsuit against the United States Department of Defense to stop it from building its firing range complex on the ancient indigenous village.  We sued the Department of Defense and, in November 2011, won our first legal victory when the Department of Defense agreed to redo its Environmental Impact Statement. This process is expected to take up to 2 years to complete.  

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, we have tried to speak to as many people in our community as possible about the issues that concern them.  I remember at one meeting showing a man a map of the Accident Potential Zone, or area off of the runway where a plane may crash.  I told him about the number of planes that would be taking off, the decibel levels of the planes flying overhead and the probability of a plane crashing in that APZ.  The man, who was middle-aged and Chamorro, looked at the map and pointed to where he lived.  His house sits near the middle of the Accident Potential Zone.  He then told me how, on many mornings, he would have a cup of coffee and watch as his cup shook every time a fighter jet flew over his home.  According to him, the jets flew so low that he could smell the jet fuel.  

I believe that in order for any movement to be successful, it must be able to track the money, the players, the politics and cut through the rhetoric.  But the movement must be able to tell the diverse stories of people with first-hand experience of “militarization” in this region, whether it be the terrors of nuclear weapons first-hand, or – as someone at the last conference mentioned – golf balls from the military golf course hitting cars and homes in an adjacent neighborhood.  Our stories and our relationships with our friends, families and neighbors are our strength and the greatest advantage that we have in the fight for peace and the recognition of dignity for our people.