Guam – The Tip of the Spear

“Guam – The Tip of the Spear”

Dateline, SBS Television. 21st May 2008

The tiny pacific island of Guam has been designated as the focal point for the United States military strategy in the Western Pacific; the so called “Tip of the Spear”. But with thousands of marines and military hardware about to descend upon Guam, some locals are worried that it will push already stretched public services to breaking point.



Up until now, tens of thousands of American troops have been based on the southern Japanese island of Okinawa. But after rapes and other crimes by US servicemen, the angry response from the Japanese public has forced the US to look for an alternative base somewhere in the western Pacific. Enter the tiny western Pacific island of Guam. A US territory since the end of the Second World War, Guam is about to play host to the might of the US war machine. But can its indigenous people cope with what many of them regard as an invasion? Here’s Bronwyn Adcock. And please be warned you that Bronwyn’s report does contain some coarse language.

REPORTER: Bronwyn Adcock

For generations, the people of Guam have felt the impact of outside military might. Since the 17th century, this small Pacific island has been captured by the Spanish, the Americans and the Japanese. It was retaken by the US at the end of the Second World War and remains a US territory. Today American military bases take up a third of the island. Now the people of Guam are again bracing for a massive military intrusion. America’s military planners have decided Guam will become a rapid-response platform in the Pacific. 8,000 marines and 9,000 family members will be transferred from Okinawa, Japan. There’ll be a huge build-up of military hardware, including new air force surveillance capabilities, the hosting of nuclear aircraft carriers and a ballistic missile defence task force.

ANNOUNCER: Ladies and gentlemen, the Vice-President of the United States.

On a visit to Guam last year, Vice-President Dick Cheney outlined the importance of the move for the United States.

DICK CHENEY, VICE PRESIDENT: By positioning forces on Guam the United States can move quickly and effectively to protect our friends, to defend our interest, to bring relief in times of emergency and to keep the sea lanes open to commerce and closed to terrorists. This island may be small but it has tremendous importance to the peace and security of the world.

Guam is strategically located for US influence in the Pacific. Some analysts say the move is a counter to Chinese military growth in the region. At one of Guam’s many tourist resorts, a cultural show by the indigenous people of Guam, the Chamorro, is under way. Years of colonisation have already diminished their numbers and the military build-up has raised fears that the Chamorro culture and population will be further diluted.

DEBBIE QUINATA: I think we as a people will become extinct, ’cause we’re certainly on the endangered species list.

Debbie Quinata is a Maga Haga, a female leader of the Chamorro. She’s not sure this tiny island of just 170,000 can cope with the military influx.

DEBBIE QUINATA: We have to be realistic. We are a very small island with limited resources, limited land space, for the love of Christ. I think the only thing that we are going to see with this build-up is a lot of misery.

At this informal meeting of Chamorros held at a local marina, a common theme is a sense of powerlessness. Guam is in a unique political situation – it’s an American territory but neither the citizens or their elected representatives have full voting rights on the US mainland.

MAN: We will never be able to have any type of sovereignty as far as governing ourselves, because that is in conflict with the US.

AL LIZAMA: It’s like in our house they don’t respect us.

Al Lizama fought for America in Vietnam and is deeply unhappy about what’s happening in his homeland.

AL LIZAMA: It’s just in the name that we are US citizens. But other than that we’re nothing. This is our island, this is our home. We have the fucking right to decide who’s to come into our island and all this, but no, fucking America treat us like fucking worse than slave and all that.

DEBBIE QUINATA: Not only were the people not consulted, I think the government officials are not consulted, they are…told.

Up at the Governor’s office in Guam local officials are scrambling to prepare for the military build-up – a decision they had no part of.

MICHAEL CRUZ, LIEUTENANT GOVERNOR OF GUAM: Have we estimated the number of available workers that we would have on Guam currently, or within the region?

It’s estimated an extra 20,000 workers will be needed for construction – at least 16,000 more than Guam can provide.

MICHAEL CRUZ: If we think it’s all going to be coming from the Philippines, there’s already a lot… there’s significant competition with other areas such as in the Middle East and Dubai area that’s..

Lieutenant Governor Michael Cruz is a Chamorro and a committed patriot who’s served for the US in Iraq. He is welcoming the military build-up, but is wary of the impact on locals.

MICHAEL CRUZ: A magnitude increase of 25%, which is about 40,000 people, moving into our island in less than a decade will prove to be a significant challenge to our infrastructure, to our environment and through all the issues of life that affect our people.

The costs for the military build-up have been flagged at US$15 billion, but that’s all money to be spent inside the military bases. The Governor’s office is lobbying to get help for the community outside the fence line.

MICHAEL CRUZ: This is a decision made many, many echelons above us as a people here in Guam. But being patriotic Americans we welcome and we are happy to be a part of the tip of the spear. But since this was national policy, there should be a national commitment towards 170,000 American citizens that live outside the fence line here.

Outside the bases, Guam is not a wealthy place. Around 25% of the population live below the poverty line. With thousands of workers and their dependants set to descend upon Guam, there are real fears that already-stretched public services like health and education just won’t cope. In this classroom at a local primary school, the air-conditioning is broken. As with all classrooms at this school there’s only one computer – usually out-of-date hand-me-downs from the military schools.

DERRICK SANTOS, SCHOOL PRINCIPAL: When they are obsolete with them, they give it to us, and we try and make use of it as much as possible. Yeah, Uncle Sam, they got everything, they got all the money, they don’t have to worry about getting their pay cheques late.

According to Union figures, students here in the public system have $US3,000 a year spent on their education, while inside the base it’s $12,000 a year. This school is so strapped for cash that kids are rarely allowed to take home books, because if they’re not returned they can’t be replaced.

LINDA: The teachers have to use their own money to purchase items, like there is not Xerox machine – excuse me, no Xerox papers, so we have to purchase the Xerox papers. We need tissues. Children have runny nose, so we request for tissues as well. Right now we don’t have any paper towels here.

As part of the militray build-up more schools will be built on-base. Principal Derrick Santos is worried this means he’ll lose even more teachers to the military schools.

DERRICK SANTOS: Payment is one. Number two, they get supplies, materials, number three, they get support, their equipment doesn’t break down. The financial situation with the military is always there. We don’t have that kind of support, it’s not priority.

To add to his concerns, Derrick Santos is expecting extra enrolments as workers and their families start arriving on Guam. But so far there’s no commitment for any extra cash.

DERRICK SANTOS: If we don’t get any more money to help maintain our facilities, get the equipments we need, get the supplies we need, get the proper number of teachers we’re gonna need, there’s no way we can sustain the influx.

The future of Guam is being decided here in Washington DC. Retired major general David Bice is in charge of the Joint Guam program office. He says that while he can’t guarantee any money outside the fence line, it is a defence responsibility to help find solutions.

GENERAL BICE, RETIRED MAJOR GENERAL: It is our role, because we recognise that Guam is a small place, it’s a small island, and we want this to be good not just for Department of Defense, but we want this to be successful for the people of Guam.

Debbie Quinata, however, is sceptical that enough will ever be done to break down what she calls the 2-tier system.

DEBBIE QUINATA: The military and the federal government has managed to create two completely different classes of people and it really truly is us and them. You have housing that is available on base that is extremely luxurious, very self-contained little community, with everything from McDonald’s that are built on people’s family land, making money off of our population, all the way to right at the gates where they have every facility, every resource available.

GENERAL BICE: With the US military presence coming in, the 8,000 marines alone are going to be bringing in an annual payroll of about US$300 million.

Local business groups are welcoming the build-up and the price of real-estate is already on the rise. But some believe this surge in housing prices is indicative of how locals will be left behind.

DEBBIE QUINATA: It will be beyond the reach of the local wage earner, it truly will be.

Public meetings about the build-up have been well attended. Major General Bice has been coming to Guam to listen to the views of the people.

MAN: You said, this is the largest military build-up in the history of the United States, and you’re going to bring it to the littlest? Can we get some sense there?

GENERAL BICE: I certainly understand the anxieties and frustrations expressed by Guam’s elected officials and the public.

General Bice says Washington is listening to the locals. However, Guam senator Judith Won Pat, who’s followed the debate, says there’s a strong feeling that the military is just paying lip service.

JUDITH WON PAT, SENATOR: Sure they may come, they may listen, but it doesn’t go anywhere, because the military’s mission comes first, before the people in the community, that’s how I feel. And I know a lot of the grassroot people feel the same way.

The people of Guam have a long history of serving in America’s wars. It’s this history of patriotism that has some believing the US will look after Guam and not allow the military build-up to destroy the island.

MICHAEL CRUZ: But we think that as good patriotic Americans that as we continue our efforts will be rewarded.

REPORTER: You don’t have any more than the power of persuasion, though, do you?

MICHAEL CRUZ: It goes along way, though. That’s in part why the marines are leaving Japan, that’s in part why the military had to leave Viacas over in Porto Rico, so at the end of the day I think that power of persuasion will come into play if we need it.

DEBBIE QUINATA: We are a strategic location, a possession, a bounty of war, and they will do exactly what they want to do when they want to do it and how they want to do it. And if we don’t like it, I think that’s just tough.





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