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  • Guam
  • Kelly G. Marsh (bio) and Tyrone J. Taitano (bio)

During a year in which most of the world experienced a major economic downturn, Guam's political and economic focus was concerned with what promises to be a major boost to the economy yet comes with attendant political and social consequences. To buttress the previously announced relocation of several thousand marines and their families from Okinawa to Guam, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton traveled to Japan to sign an agreement [End Page 130] with Japanese officials to formalize the move (KUAM, 17 Feb 2009). On Guam, announcements were made of expenditures or contracts signed as part of the US Department of Defense's $10 billion in projected spending for the relocation (KUAM, 15 Oct 2009). Overall, military construction spending on the island accelerated, which in part compensated for the decrease in tourism resulting from the worldwide economic downturn (Bradley 2009).

Throughout 2008 and early 2009, tourism arrivals declined from Guam's principal market, Japan. An April 2009 report from the Guam public auditor pointed out that Japan's 2008 arrival numbers were even lower than in 2004 when the tourist industry was recovering from two super typhoons and coping with the impact of the Asian sars epidemic. Visitor arrivals from other Asia-Pacific markets also declined in 2008, and the report characterized prospects for tourism in 2009 as "bleak" (KUAM, 13 April 2009). On the other hand, Guam Visitors Bureau (GVB) board chairman Dave Tydingco stated that GVB officials were surprised to see that arrivals from Japan had been rising recently. Among the reasons given for the upturn was the strengthening of the yen and the reduction in the fuel surcharge, which decreased the cost of airfare. However, with respect to Guam's other major market, Korea, visitor numbers remain challenging as that country's currency, the won, lost 30 percent of its value against the US dollar. Tydingco said, "We are hoping that with the stabilization of the Japan market the summer months are looking better but this global financial crisis is having a significant impact on travel around the world and we just need to be a little bit smarter about how we are going to be able to push tourism in our core markets" (KUAM, 18 March 2009).

In April 2009, First Hawaiian Bank issued its economic forecast for Guam noting that, despite difficulties in the tourist industry, the island stands out as one of the few economies in the world that has a brighter future, primarily due to the massive military buildup. The bank's economic adviser, Dr Leroy Laney, stated, "The coming military buildup occupies center stage on Guam in 2009. It is assured that the buildup will come, and parts of it are already underway, even though some uncertainty still exists as to the exact timing of the transfer" (KUAM, 28 April 2009).

Uncertainty about the buildup, though, troubled many island leaders and activists, particularly with respect to infrastructure, environmental, and social considerations. Many of these concerns were voiced in a number of forums, including a series of oversight hearings conducted by Senator Judi Guthertz, chair of the legislature's Committee on the Guam Military Buildup and Homeland Security (KUAM, 3 March 2009). The University of Guam (UOG) also held symposiums featuring speakers on the buildup. In November 2008, the UOG College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences, along with Sanctuary, Incorporated, hosted a discussion about the military buildup for students and island residents (PDN, 21 Nov 2008). At a UOG symposium in April 2009, Dr Catherine Lutz of Brown University led a presentation entitled "U.S. Military Basing and Its [End Page 131] Impact on Local Communities and Global U.S. Strategy" (KUAM, 13 April 2009). Another symposium featured Meio University's Kiyoshi Nakachi and focused on Okinawa's experiences in hosting US military forces (KUAM, 15 April 2009).

The US Department of Defense indicated that it needed more land than previously estimated for the buildup of troops and was exploring the possibility of leasing Government of Guam (GovGuam) property (KUAM, 17 Feb 2009). In February 2009, Senator Benjamin J F Cruz introduced legislation to allow Guam voters to decide whether they support...