GUAM: EQUAL IN WAR BUT NOT IN PEACE
-- HON. BEN GARRIDO BLAZ (Extension of Remarks - October 23, 1991)|
To the Editor: I applaud `Free the Government's Plantation' (editorial, Oct. 6), which called for statehood for the District of Columbia. In essence, your paper seems to argue that simple justice requires that the legitimate desires of the people of the District for self-determination be met. I agree wholeheartedly.
I had just finished writing a message for the veterans' organizations in my Congressional District (Guam) in which I referred to two young Guamanians who had lost their lives fighting for America during Operation Desert Storm. I mentioned further that Guam's tradition of service to the United States has seen it--in both the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War--suffer more casualties on a per capita basis than any other American community.
Our casualties of war go far beyond those who have died in uniform. As the only American civilian population held by the enemy during World War II, the atrocities and daily humiliations of that time are burned forever into our psyches. Yet the loyalty and love my people feel for the United States remains unabated.
I can attest to this because first as a 13-year-old forced laborer during World War II and later serving in both the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War during the course of a thirty year Marine career, I have seen the testimony of their faith in the United States written with their blood.
Yet the people of Guam--Americans all--remain second-class citizens. Like the people of the District of Columbia, they are denied the fundamental rights afforded their counterparts elsewhere. At least, the 23rd Amendment gave the people of the District the right to vote for President. We on Guam were not given that right.
Ironically, American expatriates enjoy more rights than their fellow citizens living in the District and in the Territories. Through the absentee ballot, they remain fully enfranchised while, with the exception of the Presidential vote, the people of the District share with their counterparts in the Territories the dubious status of being absentees in their native land.
The inequities of Guam's current status are perhaps best highlighted by this simple fact. An American citizen living on Guam is disenfranchised from voting in Federal elections. In that regard, he has no more rights than a Green Card holder. Should he, however, fly to California or Hawaii and establish residency, he miraculously gains all the rights of citizenship. He can be enfranchised by an airline ticket. And he can be disenfranchised by a ticket as well, should he return to his birthplace.
Currently, Guam is seeking to forge a closer union with the United States through the adoption of commonwealth status. When it does so, it will mark the first time in the almost one hundred years that Guam has been an American territory that the people will have determined for themselves what their relationship with the federal government should be.
Even when Guam achieves commonwealth status, the Federal Government will not give us the same constitutional rights enjoyed by our brothers and sisters in the States. We will still not have the Presidential vote; our delegate will still lack a vote on the House floor. Sadly, an old saying on Guam remains as true now as ever: We are equal in war, but not in peace.