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Guam Bucks US Marine Realignment Plan

SNA (Tokyo) — Visiting a Rotary Club event on April 6, Guam Governor Eddie Calvo announced, “My administration will no longer support the [military] build-up. We will not support further progress on the military realignment on Guam.”

This declaration is of immediate concern to Japan, which is expecting thousands of US Marines to be shifted out of Okinawa and into Guam early in the next decade.

Governor Calvo has been a staunch proponent of the US Marine build-up on his island, and even as he announced his withdrawal of support, he was careful to note that, “I want the buildup to happen.”

The explanation for the governor’s apparently schizophrenic statements is that he is upset with a related policy of the US federal government and is signaling his willingness to hold the Marine realignment process hostage until that other matter is resolved to his satisfaction.

The dispute is over the US federal government’s recent unwillingness to grant work visas to laborers coming to Guam, and this has resulted in a “federally-induced labor shortage” that is, according to Governor Calvo, tantamount to “economic sabotage and warfare on loyal American citizens.”

US base construction is expected to draw further human resources from the already suffering labor market.

The governor’s concern over the work visa issue appears to be widely shared on the island, although not everyone is on board with Calvo’s tactic of threatening the US Marine realignment plan. The Guam Chamber of Commerce, for example, issued a statement as follows: “Our organization has always been a strong proponent of the military buildup and the economic opportunities that it has, and will provide for our island community. We too are also very concerned about the high rate of denials of the H-2B foreign worker’s visas, however we don’t believe that denouncing the support of the buildup is the ideal route to take.”

The current military realignment plan calls for transferring from Okinawa about 4,100 US Marines to Guam, about 2,700 to Hawaii, and about 800 to the US mainland. This is supposed to occur around 2021 or 2022, but even parts of the US government itself have expressed doubts about this timeline. The Japanese government has signed on to contribute roughly US$3 billion towards the more than US$8 billion estimated cost of the US Marine realignment.

While Governor Calvo may very well reverse his stand in the near future, this episode demonstrates rather clearly that the realignment plan isn’t proceeding very smoothly, even in terms of moving US Marines to Guam, which should be the easiest part of the project. This also suggests that the 2022 target date may slip a great deal further into the future, leaving the people of Okinawa with their heavy and disproportionate burden of hosting a US Marine force that most of the local population no longer welcomes.

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