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Back Letter to the Editor The winds of trade

The winds of trade

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THE northeast trade winds brought Magellan to Guåhan on his quest to trade with China (for silk, tea and porcelain). We became a fueling stop on the Manila Galleon trade route between Acapulco and Manila. With Spanish missionization, our souls were also traded.

To protect these material and spiritual trade routes from other European traders, the Spanish militarized Guåhan, building 14 military structures between 1671 and 1835. The Chamorro-Spanish War began in 1671. U.S. corporate trade interests in the Caribbean, Pacific, and Asia spurred the Spanish-American War of 1898. After the war, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines were annexed by the United States, traded from one colonizer to another.

The “Insular Cases” that decided our fate also involved trade. In DeLima v Bidwell (1901), the DeLima Sugar Company sued New York City for charging tariffs on sugar from Puerto Rico. In Downes v Bidwell (1901), S.B. Downes & Company sued New York City for charging tariffs on oranges from Puerto Rico. Goetze v United States (1901) challenged tariff law on goods from Hawai’i (annexed after the Hawaiian kingdom was overthrown by U.S. military-backed corporations). In Fourteen Diamond Rings v United States (1901), an American who purchased 14 diamond rings from the Philippines refused to pay tariffs. The plaintiffs in these cases argued tariffs were illegal since all the countries they imported from were annexed, hence they were no longer "foreign countries."

Annexation was a free trade strategy, orchestrated by U.S. corporations and protected by the U.S. military. While the Spanish traded crucifixes for Chamorro souls, the U.S. traded flags for Chamorro bodies. More than 600 Chamorro men enlisted as mess attendants during the U.S. Naval period. Of course, our bodies were inspected and vaccinated first.

After World War I, Japan gained control over trade in other parts of Micronesia. When Japan occupied Guåhan during World War II, we were incorporated into the "Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere." Again, we were traded from one colonizer to another.

When the U.S. re-occupied Guahan, we were traded once again. Then the Guam Organic Act of 1950 traded U.S. citizenship for more Chamorro bodies. Approximately 3,700 Chamorros enlisted by 1971. The children of the Organic Act became the soldiers of the Vietnam War. Their children are now exported by a new breed of traders: military recruiters.

It is not a coincidence the military buildup on Guåhan was announced in 2005/2006. It was the same time the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) – a group of world leaders and global CEOs (Big Sweatshops, Big Pharmaceutical, Big Military Contractors, Big Oil, Big Agriculture, Big Mining, Big Banking) – began pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement, a NAFTA-like free trade agreement for our region. Of course, "free trade" means eliminating tariffs, labor unions, fair wages, health benefits, job security, safety standards, and environmental regulations.

It is not a coincidence the military buildup on Guåhan was approved before the 2011 APEC meeting was held here in Honolulu.

Will we trade our children to the military recruiters? Will we trade our economic sovereignty for commissary privileges? Will we trade our ancestral burial grounds for a museum? Will we trade the innocence of a 12-year-old Chamorro girl for the sexual violence of 8,000 U.S. Marines?

Will we trade our culture for tourists from Russia and China? Will they trade our “Native Inhabitant Vote” for a “Haole-Always Vote?”

Will we trade the scent of the ocean for the scent of U.S. dollar bills?

Corporate trade and military interests have been controlling our destiny since the 16th century. Will we continue to trade away our future?

Craig Santos Perez,
poet, professor
Honolulu, Hawai'i

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