In a recently released letter to the U.S. government, human rights officials at the United Nations backed Indigenous activists in Guam and expressed concern over the United States’ ongoing military presence in the territory. Activists representing Guam’s Chamorro people have decried America’s continued control and increased militarization on the island since claiming it as a territory in 1898, after the Spanish-American War.
In their letter, which came at the urging of human rights lawyers, three U.N. special rapporteurs expressed concern over “America’s increased military presence in Guam and the failure to protect the indigenous Chamorro people from the loss of their traditional lands, territories, and resources.” The officials all advise on human rights issues, and they condemned the denial of the Indigenous population’s “right to free, prior and informed consent and self-determination.”
People born in Guam are U.S. citizens, yet they cannot vote in U.S. elections. Chamorro activists have been sounding the alarm on U.S. oversight for more than a century, sharing stories of their marginalization on an island densely populated with U.S. military personnel.
Since the end of the Spanish-American War, the United States has used its rule over Guam to keep a toehold in the Pacific and a close watch of geopolitical foes, particularly China. Still, many Americans know little to nothing about U.S. involvement in Guam, let alone about the plight of its Indigenous people. In mid-March, that ignorance came to an embarrassing head when Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) denounced funding for Guam as she spoke out against aid to foreign countries.
“Our hard-earned tax dollars should just go for America, not for, what, China, Russia, the Middle East, Guam, whatever, wherever,” she said.
Legal activists supporting the Chamorro people believe the letter puts America on notice to establish a new path for U.S.-Guam relations. Juan Aguon, whose Blue Ocean Law firm helped push the officials to send the letter, called it “deeply validating” in a statement.
“It says to the world ― not just to the U.S. ― that might does not make right, that many of us have been right all along,” he said.
Aguon, who recently wrote a book about the Chamorro experience, “The Properties of Perpetual Light,” said the letter affirms the community’s right to “a clean environment, culture, health and life — rights that should be respected.”
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