“We love our island. We don’t want to give it up,” says Jerome Aldan, the mayor of the Northern Mariana Islands. “This proposal is going to turn it into a wasteland.” (David Cloud, Los Angeles Times)
The Navy’s plan to conduct live fire training on Tinian and Pagan islands in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) is another recent manifestation of President Obama’s so-called Pacific Pivot (now rebranded the “rebalance to Asia”). Meeting fierce anti-bases protests in Okinawa since the 1995 rape of a 12 year old schoolgirl by US Marines, the US and Japan have tried to relocate the Futenma MCAS to Henoko, Okinawa. This plan has been completely rejected by the vast majority of Okinawans and is now approaching a breaking point with regular civil disobedience on land and sea to protect the coral reef and seagrass habitats favored by the endangered northern Dugong.
Another element of the realignment plan involved moving up to 8000 marines plus their dependents to Guam, the US colony in the Mariana chain. But strong opposition to the proposal, budget constraints in Congress and inadequate infrastructure on Guam have caused the US to recalibrate its plans. They are now looking at approximately 4000 marines going to Guam, 2500 to Australia on a rotating basis, and 2700 to Hawaiʻi. Additionally, the original plan to build a live fire range in Pagat point in Guam, an important ancient Chamorro cultural site, was blocked by legal and political pressure from the community. So the navy looked north to the CNMI, which is in a semi-colonial status under the U.S. The latest environmental impact statement just released looks at establishing enhanced live fire training on Tinian as well as taking over the northern island of Pagan.
Whereas the CNMI government had been more accepting of military plans in the past, this new proposal has sparked vociferous opposition. Check out the testimony from one of the public hearings.
The struggle there has finally gotten some wider media coverage, such as this piece in the Los Angeles Times “Island of Pagan opposes plan to use it for Marine invasion training” (5/17/2015):
“We love our island. We don’t want to give it up,” said Jerome Aldan, the 40-year-old elected mayor of the Northern Mariana Islands. “This proposal is going to turn it into a wasteland.”
The islanders were relocated to Saipan years ago when the volcano erupted, but now they want to return home.
Pagan is a gem of biodiversity. Biologists have been concerned about rumors that the military wanted to take over the island. Several years ago some UH researchers created a website to draw attention to the ecological resources that would be endangered by military occupation of the island.
The Alternative Zero Coalition is one group fighting the proposed plan.
Our Islands Are Sacred is a group on Facebook based in Guam that is also in solidarity with efforts to protect Tinian and Pagan.