University of Hawai'i Press

The year 2016–2017 was filled with great uncertainty, both internal to the Guam community and external, as the United Nations–designated non-self-governing island territory continued to evaluate its relationship to the rest of the world, and, in particular, to its administering power, the United States of America.

On the eve of the 2016 US presidential election, Guam, being a day ahead of North America, held its "straw poll" for president. Residents of Guam, an unincorporated US territory, are not allowed to participate in the election of the US president and vice president; they have no Electoral College votes or voting representation in Congress. However, the straw poll has been an interesting piece of political trivia for decades, as Guam voters tend to "predict" the winner of the next day's contest (Los Angeles Times, 8 Nov 2016).

In November 2016, Hillary R Clinton won handily with nearly 72 percent of the 32,071 votes cast in Guam, yet, as the election unfolded in the United States, the predictions of most pundits as well as Guam voters proved to be incorrect (pdn, 8 Nov 2016). In a major upset, Donald J Trump, despite losing the US popular vote count by several million, won in the Electoral College to become the forty-fifth US president. [End Page 136]

Guam's local elections for senators in the island's 15-seat legislature, I Liheslaturan Guåhan, represented a similar coup d'état of received opinion, as 7 of the 15 veteran politicians were voted out by wide margins, making way for a new generation of leaders not drawn from the usual elite class of the island's civil servants (kuam, 9 Nov 2016). Long-serving incumbents from both parties, including the powerful Speaker of the Legislature, Judith Won Pat, a daughter of the local political legend Antonio Won Pat, were unseated (Marianas Variety, 14 Nov 2016). Guam Democrats retained control of the legislature with a nine-to-six majority—one less than required for a "supermajority," which would allow their party to overcome a veto by Republican Governor Eddie Baza Calvo (Pacific Islands Report, 9 Nov 2016).

One significant issue that played a role in the desire for change among Guam's voters was that of the governor's pay-raise scandal. After the 2014 election, in which Governor Calvo was elected to a second term, his office submitted a bill to the Guam Legislature in special session to provide raises of up to $40,000 each for elected leaders, political appointees, and classified personnel—including the governor himself. The raises were approved at the time, but a public outcry immediately arose, and the legislature and governor scrambled to defend or amend their actions. On 22 May 2017, the controversial raises were at last repealed, with the Guam Legislature voting 10 to 5 to override the governor's veto (pdn, 23 March 2017).

The inauguration of President Trump in January 2017 brought with it a wave of anxiety for the local government and community over the new president's ideological threat to a network of social programs that benefit residents of Guam, such as food stamps, welfare, and housing assistance (pdn, 24 May 2017). Overall, the US federal government is estimated to provide $500 million to $600 million in assistance to Guam each year (pdn, 4 July 2016).

With the release of budget proposals from the Trump administration and the Republican-controlled US Congress, the negative impact on Guam was confirmed for many local officials, some of whom spoke out about the dramatic effect they might have. As a US territory, Guam does not have full representation in the US Congress or government but nonetheless is subject to all federal laws and decisions. At the time of this writing, Trump's budget is still a work in progress, but it paints a bleak picture for Guam in terms of federal contributions. Funding for the arts, education, food stamps, and insular affairs would all be dramatically reduced (gdp, 25 May 2017).

Although exact figures are not known at the time of this writing, Guam and other territories are also threatened with losing at least $3 million of funding in "Compact Impact" aid. This aid represents financial assistance that the US government is supposed to be obligated to pay to offset the costs and strain on the island's resources caused by mass immigration from the neighboring Micronesian countries whose citizens are entitled to enter US territories visa-free under their Compact of Free Association [End Page 137] relationship with the United States (pdn, 23 June 2017).

The only increase in federal spending for Guam would be connected to the controversial military buildup and infrastructure projects related to expanding US military facilities on the island. Trump's budget proposal would provide more than $300 million for wastewater improvements and the construction of two air force hangars (pdn, 24 May 2017).

While government leaders lamented the potential federal cuts to funding for social services, a new activist group was formed in 2016 to halt one of the key components of the US military buildup on Guam: the building of a firing range on the historic Litekyan (Ritidian) site. The group, named Prutehi Litekyan (Save Ritidian), has held teach-ins and petition drives and it plans to work with environmental watchdog groups in the United States to pursue legal options (kuam, 6 March 2017). The pristine beaches, cliffs, caves, and jungle at Litekyan are a US national wildlife reserve, the site of an ancient Chamorro village and cave paintings, the home of endangered species, and a spectacular beach beloved by area residents as well as tourists (CounterPunch, 4 Sept 2015). The building of the firing range or US military installations on Litekyan would further restrict public access and threaten the survival of artifacts, animal species, and rare native plants in the area, including the hayun lågu (Serianthes nelsonii), an endangered species with only one adult tree known living on Guam (pdn, 14 Nov 2016).

Local concerns over the potential impact of Trump's leadership of the US government on Guam were exacerbated by another example of federal interference in local affairs. On 8 March 2017, in the case of Arnold Davis v Guam Election Commission, US District Judge Frances Tydingco Gatewood ruled in favor of Davis, a white expatriate who had been resident in Guam for some time (gdp, 9 March 2017). Davis had filed a lawsuit in 2011 through the "Center for Individual Rights" in the United States, an extreme-right-wing legal organization known for its opposition to affirmative action and the Voting Rights Act. The center has received significant funding from Betsy DeVos, Trump's notoriously unqualified secretary of education, as well as the Koch brothers, the right-wing billionaire kingmakers. Davis and his lawyers claimed that a Government of Guam law mandating a nonbinding self-determination plebiscite violated Davis's constitutional rights as a US citizen by prohibiting him from registering and participating on the basis of race (pdn, 9 March 2017). They were requesting a summary judgment declaring "the qualifications for voter eligibility in the political status plebiscite to be in violation of the 14th and 15th Amendments to the US Constitution, the Voting Rights Act and the Organic Act of Guam" (kuam, 5 Nov 2915).

The law in question provides for a self-determination plebiscite in which those who qualify as "native inhabitants" are eligible to participate and choose between three future statuses for Guam: integration with the United States, free association with the United States, or independence. Native inhabitants are defined not by race, but by [End Page 138] the time of the granting of US citizenship and limited self-government on Guam, and, as the judge herself noted in her ruling, the designation does therefore include persons of various races or ethnicities besides indigenous Chamorro. The designation applies to all who received their US citizenship by virtue of the Organic Act for Guam in 1950, as well as their descendants (Office of the Attorney General of Guam 2017).

Despite these factors—a time-based (rather than race-based) definition for native inhabitants and the fact that the plebiscite itself was nonbinding, enacted no law, elected no official, and was simply meant to provide a statement from the affected persons through which the Government of Guam might negotiate with the US government—Judge Gatewood ruled in favor of Davis (pdn, 8 March 2017). Gatewood stated that the law was unconstitutional on the grounds of racial discrimination because the vast majority of native inhabitants were Chamorro. She found the intent and the effect of the law to be racially discriminatory.

Also in March, the US Department of Justice, in connection to a complaint also filed by Davis, threatened the Government of Guam with a lawsuit over the Chamorro Land Trust (gdp, 9 March 2017). First created in the 1970s, this trust provides land leases to landless indigenous Chamorro people in hopes of righting a historical injustice whereby thousands of people had their lands extralegally seized by the US military following World War II (gdp, 9 March 2017). This threat from the US Department of Justice, along with Judge Gatewood's ruling, had a chilling effect on efforts underway to educate the Guam community as to their political status options. There was a great deal of confusion, especially among indigenous Chamorros, as it appeared that the US government was denying their existence and their rights, including their right to restorative justice.

Guam's political leaders were quick to respond to the threat posed by the Davis decision. Senator Therese Terlaje authored a resolution in the Guam Legislature calling on the island's attorney general to appeal the Davis decision, protect the Chamorro Land Trust, and defend the right of Guam's native inhabitants to determine their destiny without overt or undue interference by the administering power. The 17 March 2017 public hearing on this bill lasted six hours and was attended by more than a hundred community members, all expressing frustration over the Davis decision and supporting an appeal. The resolution passed soon after (gdp, 18 March 2017).

This hearing was followed by weeks of protests, demonstrations, and forums, culminating in a large rally held on 7 April 2017 that was attended by more than eight hundred members of the community. The rally was organized by a grassroots collective under the theme "Respect the CHamoru People" (see below regarding the significance of this spelling). It was a multicultural event meant to provide a space where people of all ethnic backgrounds on Guam could come together to show their support for the Chamorro people and their continuing quest for decolonization (kuam, 7 April 2017). [End Page 139]

On that same day, Guam Attorney General Elizabeth Barrett-Anderson, with the support of Governor Calvo, announced that she would appeal the Gatewood decision on the plebiscite and defend the Chamorro Land Trust against the US Department of Justice challenge (pdn, 7 April 2017).

Tension in the relationship between the Government of Guam and the US government is long-standing because Guam is treated as a possession rather than an equal partner or ally of the United States. Guam is not allowed the basic political right to determine its destiny or modify agreements such as the Compacts of Free Association that neighboring countries have with the United States and US military buildups that have profound impacts on its community (The Stream, 12 April 2017).

One frequently problematic sticking point in federal-territorial relations is immigration control. Despite its distance from the United States and its proximity to Asia, Guam is considered a US port of entry and its borders are controlled by US Customs and Immigration under the Department of Homeland Security. Over the past seventy years, this situation has resulted in the indigenous Chamorro people becoming a minority in their home island, where they now only comprise 37.1 percent of the population (cia World Factbook 2017). More recently, the lack of local control over immigration has led to labor shortages, in particular in the construction industry (pdn, 11 Sept 2016). US Homeland Security controls the flow of foreign workers to Guam and, in 2016, began to reject applications for h-2b visas (for temporary nonagricultural workers) at unprecedented rates. The rate of rejection was so high that more than a dozen businesses filed a lawsuit against Homeland Security, claiming unfair treatment and unfair policies. Governor Calvo called the denial of visas "economic sabotage and warfare" against the people of Guam (pdn, 6 April 2017).

For this reason, in April 2017, Governor Calvo, who had long been a supporter of the US military buildup on Guam, publicly withdrew his support. He argued that it was untenable for the island's economy to have foreign workers provided for military buildup–related projects while applications for civilian projects to hire the same type of workers were rejected. Although it is unclear what his verbalized withdrawal of support would translate to in terms of policy or negotiation, it nonetheless underscored the difficulties of Guam's territorial position in terms of basic planning and governance (pdn, 6 April 2017).

While US Homeland Security was unwilling to work with Governor Calvo on immigration, there was another issue where they did find common ground—his deportation of certain criminals from the Philippines and the Federated States of Micronesia (FSM; see also FSM political review, this issue). The governor stated that the Compact of Free Association between the US and FSM includes criteria that allow him to send regional migrants back to their respective nations (pdn, 2 Aug 2016). Attorney General Barrett-Anderson cautioned the governor against such actions, saying they could be challenged on grounds of racial bias (pdn, 2 Aug [End Page 140] 2016). The governor claimed that the Guam Organic Act of 1950 gave him power to deport criminals; the attorney general disagreed but stated that it did give him the ability to pardon and commute sentences on condition of leaving the country and not returning (pdn, 2 Aug 2016). Guam law currently calls for the deportation of a compact immigrant who is convicted of a felony or crime of moral turpitude, sentenced to one or more years for any crime, or is a repeat offender found guilty of driving under the influence of alcohol (gdp, 23 Oct 2016).

The situation exposes the political differences between the FSM and Guam, with the former being an autonomous state and the latter being a US territory. The issue is typically framed by Calvo's opponents as a diplomatic one between the FSM and the United States, with Guam having little to no formal authority or control over its own borders. However, it also demonstrates the enduring social, cultural, and economic ties between the two Micronesian countries on their own terms: while lower-level politicians from the FSM repeatedly clashed with Governor Calvo over his views on the deportation of their citizens, FSM President Peter Christian has refrained from making any public statement on the matter.

Wesley Simina, Speaker of the Nineteenth Congress in the FSM, wrote to President Christian to protest that the matter should be one for the US government to resolve without the intervention of "Hagåtña," the capital of Guam (pdn, 4 Sept 2016). Chuuk Senate President Mark Mailo also urged the FSM president to approach the United States directly on the matter, but President Christian was unavailable for comment to the news media (pdn, 4 Sept 2016). Mr Christian made a brief reference to the issue at a recent regional forum but declined to be interviewed on the subject when approached by Guam news media (gdp, 5 May 2017).

In September 2016, Robert Ruecho, the FSM consul general to Guam, announced that by executive order his office would no longer comply with the Calvo administration by providing information on FSM nationals. In response, Calvo declared Ruecho "persona non grata" and threatened to extend this designation to any other foreign officials who challenged his authority or refused to cooperate with his government in determining whether a convicted criminal was an FSM national (gdp, 23 Oct 2016).

Palau President Tommy Remengesau Jr, on the other hand, reached out to Calvo to seek assistance in arranging for a Palauan prisoner to serve his remaining time on his home island (gdp, 23 Oct 2016). Governor Calvo's office also received letters from FSM convicts requesting commutation of their sentences on condition of leaving Guam (gdp, 29 Oct 2016).

In April 2017, the number of non-US citizens assigned to removal or deportation reached twenty-eight when two FSM citizens, a child sex offender and a convicted vehicle thief, were transferred to US custody (gdp, 24 April 2017). Calvo has continued to request US Homeland Security assistance with the deportation of criminal immigrants from Guam (Kaselehlie Press, 16 Sept 2016).

A two-year saga in court over the death of Bert Piolo, a Guam police [End Page 141] officer, ended in 2017. Fellow officer Mark Torre Jr was present at the time of his death and appeared to be implicated by Piolo himself during a 911 call in which Piolo stated, "He shot me." The jury found Torre not guilty of murder and manslaughter but guilty of negligent homicide and other charges. In June, Torre was sentenced to eight years in prison (pdn, 21 June 2017).

The past year also saw the fall of one of the most enduring public icons of Guam life, Anthony Apuron, who had served as archbishop of Guam since 1986. Archbishop Apuron was confronted by several scandals and controversies in recent years, starting with his support for a foreign sect known as the Neocatechumenal Way, which put him at odds with mainstream Guam Catholics (Crux, 21 March 2017). Apuron clashed with many over his demotion of several priests who were critical of this sect. He also faced allegations of financial misconduct that appeared to benefit the Neocatechumenal Way (Bevacqua 2017, 109). His flock's misgivings gave rise to a community group known as the Concerned Catholics of Guam, which sought to unite Catholics against Apuron (kuam, 22 Aug 2016).

In 2016, the scandal grew to new heights as a number of men came forward to accuse Apuron and other priests of sexually molesting them while they were young boys. In May 2016, Apuron was temporarily replaced and withdrew from public life. In November of that year, he was formally succeeded by Archbishop Michael Byrnes. At present, Apuron is facing a canonical trial in the Vatican (pdn, 31 Dec 2016). The Concerned Catholics of Guam, who had protested in front of the cathedral in Guam's capital for fifty-four straight weeks demanding Apuron's removal, ended their protests in July 2017. They had achieved their goal of ousting Apuron from his seat of power in Guam, while still awaiting the Vatican's final judgment (pdn, 9 July 2017).

The University of Guam was shaken by sex scandals in 2016 and 2017 as well, as Michael Blair Ehlert, a longtime tenured professor, faced a second-degree felony charge of sexual assault against a student, as well as multiple other charges based on testimonies from his former students accusing him of rape and other forms of sexual misconduct. He was convicted on one count of third-degree criminal sexual conduct and another count of attempted third-degree criminal sexual assault against two of his university students (pdn, 31 July 2017). Ehlert had been placed on administrative leave pending the outcome of the trial (pdn, 28 July 2017), and the university announced that it would terminate his employment following his felony conviction (pdn, 3 Aug 2017). In response to publicity surrounding the Ehlert case, the University of Guam updated its sexual misconduct policy in 2016 to ban all "amorous relations" between professors and undergraduate students (gdp, 18 Feb 2016).

Tourist arrivals represented a bright spot in Guam's economic news. After setting a record for most tourist arrivals during a year in 2015, the island surpassed that record in 2016. The Guam Visitors Bureau recorded 1,535,410 visitors in 2016, a 9 percent [End Page 142] increase from 2015. Although Guam saw a slight decrease in visitors from Japan—normally its primary tourist market—significant growth occurred in Guam's second-largest market, South Korea, which, for the first time, grew to more than half a million travelers (kuam, 30 Dec 2016). This growth continued into the first and second quarters of 2017, as tourist arrivals through June also set several monthly arrival records (pdn, 12 July 2017).

Chamorro culture enjoyed the spotlight in 2016, in particular when Guam hosted the Twelfth Festival of Pacific Arts. This trend has continued, first with the partial opening of the long-awaited Guam Museum and second with the reestablishment of the Chamorro Language Commission. The Guam Museum was originally slated to open years previously, but construction and administrative delays plagued the project. In November 2016, the Guam Museum officially opened its doors to the public; however, the permanent exhibit for the museum remains unfinished and only temporary exhibits are currently on display (see Bennett 2017).

The Chamorro Language Commission, first established in 1964, lapsed nearly twenty years ago following controversial debates over Chamorro orthography. Particularly controversial was the spelling of the word "Chamorro" itself, with the alternative of "CHamoru" preferred by some. The commission met again officially in May 2017, chaired by longtime activist and former Senator Hope Alvarez Cristobal (gdp, 9 May 2017).

Chamorro sports history was made in 2017 when Zach Banner became the first Chamorro to be drafted into the National Football League by the Indiana Colts. While receiving national attention, Banner consistently expressed pride in his Chamorro roots and proudly displayed the Guam flag when he was drafted and in his publicity images (Guam Sports Network, 27 April 2017). In July 2017, he returned to Guam and provided training camps for local youth (pdn, 29 June 2017). Avid fans regularly mobbed Banner to take selfies (photos of themselves) with this newest Chamorro star on the world stage.

The 2015 corruption scandal involving fifa (Féderation Internationale du Football Association)—where US prosecutors indicted and convicted more than forty executives—also affected Guam's local sports in April 2017. Guam businessman George Lai had been the president of the Guam Football Association since 2001. He was accused of accepting close to a million dollars in bribes from individuals who wanted his help in influencing the leadership of the Asian Football Confederation and fifa itself. Lai has pled guilty to wire fraud and banking crime and resigned his post; he is currently cooperating with US authorities in exchange for leniency (pdn, 27 July 2017).

The past year saw the funerals of several prominent members of the Guam community. Magdalena S N Bayani, known as "Tan Deda," had received the designation of Master of Chamorro Culture for her life's work as a techa or Catholic prayer leader. She passed away on 30 December 2016 at the age of 101. Frank Blas Sr, a longtime politician and former lieutenant governor of Guam, passed [End Page 143] away on 1 August 2016 at the age of 75. Alfred Curie Ysrael, a millionaire real estate developer, businessman, owner of several tourist hotels on island, and brother-in-law of the Honorable Madeleine Z Bordallo, received a state funeral on Guam when he passed away on 10 March 2017 at the age of 86.

Looking to the future, Guam continues in an atmosphere of political anxiety, especially as international relations across the Asia-Pacific region may shift under the Trump administration. In 2016, China developed new missiles dubbed "Guam Killers," capable of striking Guam (Washington Post, 11 May 2016). Throughout 2017, North Korea conducted well-publicized missile tests, which, while unlikely to cause much damage directly to the continental United States, are capable of wrecking much havoc on the Korean peninsula and surrounding areas (gdp, 9 June 2017).

Michael Lujan Bevacqua

michael lujan bevacqua is an assistant professor of Chamorro language at the University of Guam and is the cochair for Independent Guåhan, an educational outreach organization tasked with educating the island community on decolonization. His research deals with studying the effects of colonization on the Chamorro people and theorizing the possibilities for their decolonization. In 2016 he and his two brothers started a creative company—The Guam Bus—and they write, illustrate, and publish comics and children's books in the Chamorro language.

Elizabeth Ua Ceallaigh Bowman

elizabeth ua ceallaigh bowman is assistant professor of comparative literature and director of the Women and Gender Studies program at the University of Guam. Recent publications include "Histories of Wonder, Futures of Wonder: Chamorro Activist Identity, Community, and Leadership in 'The Legend of Gadao' and 'The Women Who Saved Guåhan from a Giant Fish'" (with Michael Lujan Bevacqua; Marvels & Tales: A Journal of Fairy Tale Studies 30 [1]: 70–89). Current projects include an essay on sexual slavery in Japan-occupied Guam and Canada Lee in whiteface onstage.


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