Okinawa protesters move camp at request of fishermen
Stars and Stripes May 6, 2004
HENOKO, Okinawa — About 50 protesters vowing to prevent an underwater survey for a new Marine air station here have moved at the request of local fishermen.
The protesters, encamped at the Henoko port since April 19, moved a few yards up a road after the fishermen claimed that they got in the way and embarrassed them.
The protesters object to an environmental survey planned for the waters just offshore. The rural site has been selected for construction of an airport to replace Futenma Marine Corps Air Station in urban Ginowan.
The new installation is part of the 1996 bilateral agreement to reduce the footprint of the U.S. military on Okinawa. The United States and Japan agreed to close some bases, consolidate others and move Marine air operations to a less populated area of the island.
The new air station, to be open for joint use by civilian aircraft, will be built on reclaimed land and a reef about two miles offshore. The protesters represent two groups — environmentalists who fear the construction will destroy seaweed harvesting and the feeding grounds for the endangered dugong, a saltwater manatee, and anti-military activists who object to the U.S. military presence on Okinawa.
Many protesters are elderly local women who say they will perform acts of civil disobedience, if necessary, to prevent the survey.
The protesters set up their encampment at the port, where the Naha Bureau of the Defense Facilities Agency planned to cordon off an area to store support equipment for the underwater survey. It’s also the only access point for the local fishermen.
The protest has drawn a small army of reporters and photographers, who filmed a brief altercation the first week between the protesters and workers contracted by DFAB to fence off the survey area.
The fishermen complained last week that the media attention exposed them to unwanted publicity and embarrassment. Some said they were offended by reporters questioning them about why they were putting their boats out to sea.
To avoid friction with fishermen, protest leaders decided to move to another location nearby.
“For a time being, this is our new spot,” said Takuma Higashionna of the Save the Dugong Network. “We moved out of the port, but we are still in the same area and will continue our monitoring activities. We oppose all activities connected to the airport construction.”
Some fishermen are upset that the protest is affecting their contracts with DFAB for the use of their boats in the survey. They say they have been told to have their boats ready, but when the day trip is canceled at midday because of the protest, as has been the case, they get no pay and it’s too late for them to fish.
One fisherman told reporters he was “tired of the whole thing.”
“We are offended by the protesters because they are disturbing our business,” he told the Ryukyu Shimpo. “We do fishing for a living. But, at the bottom of our hearts we, too, don’t want to have a military base here. Had this place not been picked as a new location, nothing like this would ever happen.
“I want all of them, the DFAB, the protesters and the media, to get out of here and leave us alone.”