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Issue #1511      27 July 2011

Small win for Chamorro on Guam

Indigenous Chamorro and heritage activists on the Pacific island of Guam have won a small legal victory against the US military.

In November 2010, community group We are Guahan, the National Trust, and the Guam Preservation Trust took legal action to stop the US military from building at least five firing ranges in Pågat Village.

Recently Hawaii District Court Judge Leslie Kobayashi denied a US Department of Defense motion for a “voluntary remand and stay” of the lawsuit.

Pågat, which is said to date from 700 AD, is one of the last remaining ancient settlements of Guam’s indigenous people, the Chamorro. The coastal site features caves, a limestone forest, and a number of latte stones – stone pillars used as foundations for homes in ancient Chamorro society. Pagat also has medicinal plants, remnants of pottery and tools, and ancestral burial grounds.

If the Department of Defense proceeds with plans to build the firing ranges on a bluff above Pagat, the ancient burial grounds would be closed to the public.

We are Guahan and the two conservation groups are asking the Department of Defense to work with the people of Guam to consider other, more appropriate sites for firing ranges.

Having lost round one, the Department of Defense is threatening to file a motion to dismiss the lawsuit entirely.

Community resistance to US military expansion on Guam is growing.

The plan for the firing ranges is part of a planned massive US military build-up on Guam which will see some 8,600 marines and their 9,000 dependents move to Guam from Okinawa, as well as thousands more construction workers, troops, and others related to the military build-up.

The impact of tens of thousands of new residents on an island of 175,000 has become a centre of concerns that include cultural heritage, water supply, sanitation, health, housing and education services, toxic pollution and other serious problems.

Guam lawyer Leevin Camacho commented, “We want to make sure the community is going to be united to protect our cultural resources and, broader, to protect our islands from the build-up.”  

Next article – Brit firm deals on torture

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