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Okinawa’s Opposition Has Only Begun

SNA (Ginowan) — The following interview was conducted with Yoichi Iha, who served as Mayor of Ginowan City, Okinawa, from 2003 to 2010. He was noted for his strong opposition to the US Marine air base–Futenma–that dominates the city’s geography, and was the city’s leader at the time of the 2004 helicopter crash on the campus of Okinawa International University, in which armed US Marines illegally prevented the civil authorities at gunpoint from entering near the crash site and respond to the emergency. In November 2010, Iha was a candidate for Okinawa Governor, but was defeated by incumbent Governor Hirokazu Nakaima by a 52% to 46% margin.

The following is the English translation of Yoichi Iha’s interview with the Shingetsu News Agency, conducted on January 17, 2014–on the eve of the crucial mayoral elections in Nago City–at Kakazu Heights Park, above Marine Corps Air Station Futenma.

Yoichi Iha: I faced Mr. Nakaima in gubernatorial elections three years ago. Immediately before those elections he promised to call for relocating Futenma base outside of Okinawa Prefecture. We had many debates about that issue at the time. In fact, for three years he maintained the policy of sending the base outside the prefecture. But even while ostensibly keeping this line in the most recent Okinawa Prefectural Assembly session, he went to Tokyo and granted them permission to begin landfill operations to build a new air base at Henoko. This disappointed many people, including me. He gave this landfill permission without any particular explanation, disappointing many Okinawans. For a governor, who is our representative, to act in this high-handed manner has created a lot of anger here.

Had I won the election three years ago, of course, my policy on Henoko would have been different. I am fed up with both the Japanese and US governments, and just as I did when I governed the city of Ginowan, I wouldn’t have compromised on this point and would oppose these kinds of so-called negotiations that Governor Nakaima is engaged in.

As everyone knows, since the 2010 elections all villages, towns, and cities have opposed the construction at Henoko with a united voice and called for Futenma’s relocation outside the prefecture. It is true that Governor Nakaima has now approved the landfill operations and the local chapter of the Liberal Democratic Party changed its position last November, but everyone else hasn’t changed. The all-Okinawa voice opposing the relocation of Futenma inside the prefecture remains. And because it remains, I think we will see the beginning of the people’s reaction in the Nago mayoral elections.

The Liberal Democratic Party intends to build this base by force. For Nago Mayor Susumu Inamine on his own, there will be difficulties. There are limits to the power that he can wield. Certainly, he will offer resistance. I believe this whole matter will be a big issue in this coming November’s Okinawa gubernatorial elections. Both the Japanese and US governments will have to pay attention as the Henoko base opposition could win in the run-up to the gubernatorial elections.

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