Last night, members of the Chuuk Political Status Commission (CPSC) aka Chuuk Separatists returned to Hilo to lead another community meeting with about 20 Chuukese citizens. I was hoping they would bring new information, strategies, reports, data, and all pertinent information to help the citizens be informed voters. Again, they failed to bring any of these information and also failed to address the crucial concerns for Chuukese citizens currently living in the United States. As a Chuukese citizen married to an American with US-born children, I am personally alarmed by the incredible naivete of the commissioners, the misinformation, and the absence of solid evidence for success. Here’s why I think every Chuukese citizen in the United States (i.e. Guam, Hawaii, US mainland) should be very alarmed as well.
Nation-Building Takes Leadership, Time, Money
If history informs us of anything, the Chuuk Separatists should have been upfront with the fact that nation-building is a very difficult undertaking. It requires incredibly inspirational leadership, expertise, time and money all of which Chuuk currently lacks. Chuuk lacks nation-builders with the caliber of Nelson Mandela who united people to form a new South Africa. We lack the same kind of wise leaders as those who formed our respective island nations of the FSM (e.g., Tosiwo Nakayama, Andon Amaraich, Betwel Henry, John Mangefel), the Republic of Palau (Haruo Remeliik, Lazarus Salii), and Republic of the Marshall Islands (Amata Kabua) to name a few of our own.
The Chuuk Separatists were quick to claim that the Republic of Chuuk can be formed by the March 2017 General Elections. Yet when asked if there is money for this endeavor and the years it will take to set up the structures, government, negotiate treaties, etc…they had no clear answer.
Forming an independent country takes years; it took the FSM and the Marshall Islands from 1975 to 1986 (over 11 years) to finally formalize the current Compact of Free Association treaty with the Unites States. Palau took longer because they fought for certain rights that FSM and RMI gave up.
Unrealistic and Confusing Timeline
At their Hilo meeting, the commissioners gave an unconvincing timeline that has no basis in reality. According to Mr. Asor, if the referendum for Chuuk secession passes in the March 2015 election, then the following series of nation-building activities will occur (see actual photo of handwritten timeline):
- April – Oct. 2015 (3 months): Election of Delegates to Constitutional Convention to write a new Constitution for Republic of Chuuk
- Nov. – Jan. 2016 (3 months): Constitutional Convention
- Feb. – Apr. 2016 (4 months): Education for Self Government (ESG)
- March 3, 2017: General Election & Referendum on new Chuuk Constitution. If it passes…Republic of Chuuk begins. FSM Passport & all right of entry to US for Chuukese citizens cease
- April 2017: Republic of Chuuk begins negotiations with US for Compact
If all goes well, then the Commissioners predict the Republic of Chuuk will begin after the March 2017 General Elections & Referendum on the new constitution for the Republic of Chuuk.
And now the really scary part: Mr. Asor publicly admitted that the FSM passport for all Chuukese citizens will become obsolete. And the Right of Entry to the US to live, work, seek medical care, attend school as guaranteed under the FSM Compact will cease for Chuukese citizens in 2017.
But, he was also quick to say that the Commission hopes to have negotiated with the US for a similar Compact of Free Association (COFA) for the Republic of Chuuk to protect Chuukese citizens already living in the US. These “negotiations” with the US, he said would occur the same time the constitutional convention is happening.
When asked exactly whether the commission or the State of Chuuk has the authority to “negotiate” with the government of the United States while we are still a mere state in the country of the FSM the commissioners had no intelligent answers. Commissioner Asor, the AG for Chuuk State admitted the obvious…that the State of Chuuk has no diplomatic authority to start any Compact negotiations with the US while we are still a part of the FSM.
When challenged about their misplaced confidence in securing a COFA with the US by April 2017 to protect Chuukese citizens already in the US (remember, it took FSM 11 years of hard fought negotiations), the commissioners simply had no answer.
When asked what will happen to the Chuukese citizens in the US while the negotiations for a Chuuk Compact takes place…they also had no answer, but had plenty of emotional appeals for Chuukese citizens to trust them.
Compact for Chuuk: Near Impossible Today
The commissioners exuded an almost eerie and arrogant self-confidence in the United States’ willingness to form a Compact with the Republic of Chuuk. Their reason: “it’s in their national interest.” How they can possibly know that without having preliminary talks with the United States government is beyond me. I think they have made some major erroneous assumptions about the US.
It doesn’t take a historian or diplomat to understand that the US and the global community have drastically changed from when the FSM, Palau, and RMI Compacts were under negotiations in the 70’s – 80’s. The threats of the Cold War with the communist nation of the USSR has been practically non-existent since the late 1980s. Our region of the Pacific isn’t as important a strategic location as was the case before the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.
Immigration policies and sentiments in the United States have changed even more dramatically since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001; now, the Republican Party of President Ronald Reagan who ratified the Compact by signing US Public Law 108-188 on November 3, 1986 is much more anti-immigrants than before. Chuukese politicians have squandered millions of Compact funds on public funds so a Republic of Chuuk is already starting at a greater disadvantage in its negotiating terms with the US and any other allies of the US.
TTPI Chuuk is Not the Same as COFA Chuuk
The commissioners seemed to be stuck in a time capsule from the Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands (TTPI) without full understanding of today’s Compact of Free Association (COFA) realities. They kept referring to the Compact negotiations of the post-TTPI years while neglecting the reality of the thousands of Chuukese citizens currently living in the United States protected by the COFA.
It’s a different time in our islands. Back when the FSM, Palau, RMI island nations were being formed we all held TTPI passports issued by the US government. Even then our citizens could not travel freely in and out the US except for college students who were issued the I-20 student visa. Today, there are thousands of Chuukese citizens in the US under the FSM Compact who will stand to be displaced, deemed illegal aliens and be left ineligible to live and work in the US…unless the Republic of Chuuk succeeds in negotiating the terms of a COFA with the US. And how long will that take?
Perhaps a Republic of Chuuk is a viable option. I am a proud Chuukese who wants nothing more than to see an independent Chuuk that can stand on its own merits and strength and not at the mercy of any other nation. But I am also a realist. I know that today thousands of Chuukese citizens like myself have chosen to leave our beloved Chuuk to seek better opportunities in the US. And I am fully aware (as we all should) that being allowed into this country of the US with just our own FSM passport is the greatest privilege (not right). For any Chuukese leader to ask Chuukese citizens in the US to risk it all by stepping off the cliff with them blindly is preposterous.
I admire the commissioners’ confidence in negotiating a new COFA for the new Republic of Chuuk. But it will take at least 11 years during which Chuukese citizens in the US will no longer be able to stay in the US until a new Compact with the Republic of Chuuk is signed the US Congress and ratified by whoever the US President will be. It is simply wrong for the Chuuk Separatists to give false hopes to Chuukese citizens already living in the US that they could stay in the US while the Republic of Chuuk is being formed. We are not stupid to follow you off your suicidal cliff if you have not built a safety net below for all Chuukese citizens. If we cannot put an injunction on the Chuuk independence vote on the March ballots, then let’s all vote NO. Too much is at risk.