Guam war reparations stripped from proposed defense budget
CAMP FOSTER, Okinawa — A bill proposing the U.S. pay Guam residents for their suffering during World War II died in Congress this week, the latest defeat in the islanders’ nearly three-decade quest for war reparations.
The reparations were part of next year’s proposed defense budget but were stripped out at the last minute by fiscally conservative Senate Republicans, who have opposed compensating the territory.
Many Guamanians feel the United States still owes them because it abandoned the island at the outbreak of the war and left the population to endure forced labor, public executions and internment during a brutal Japanese occupation that ended in 1944. The sentiment remains strong on the tiny territory of 170,000 residents, but Guam representatives have failed to persuade the U.S. government to compensate them despite 27 years of filing reparations proposals in Congress.
After the latest rejection, Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, who sponsored the bill and has called war reparations her top concern, issued a statement saying she was “deeply disappointed” that the compensation was removed from the defense budget by Sen. John McCain, R.-Ariz., and other Republicans.
The bill would have authorized $100 million for payments to Guamanians who were alive and suffered during the Japanese occupation of the island. That proposal was a scaled-back compromise of an earlier version of the bill, which would have also paid heirs of war survivors.
Frank Blas Jr., a member of the Guam legislature who founded a website and a traveling exhibition on Guam war survivors, said the rejection of the bill was a sign the U.S. government is ignoring the territory.
“A lot of people here are disappointed, frustrated, upset,” Blas said Thursday. “The Senate probably doesn’t understand. Here is an island thousands of miles away, out of sight out of mind.”
There are estimated to be fewer than 1,000 aging war survivors still alive today who are asking to be compensated for slave labor, internment and forced marches. The island’s feelings about war reparations have been stoked in recent months by a planned U.S. military buildup that will move 8,600 Marines from Okinawa to Guam.
The Guam legislature issued a resolution in September saying the U.S. should make good on the compensation before going ahead with the buildup.
But the defeat in Congress this week throws any future reparations into doubt, though it is unlikely the territory will abandon the issue.
“We can’t give up hope on these things,” Blas said.