Military Lobbyist's Statements 'Appall' Pagan Islanders
October 29, 2013 Leslie Wayne / The New York Times & Clynt Ridgell / Guam News & Junhan B. Todeno / Marianas Variety & Alexie Villegas Zotomayor / Marianas Variety
Pagan Island activist Jerome Aldan says a military lobbyist made a "horrible misrepresentation" about proposed military exercises in the Northern Marianas Islands. Lobbiest Juan Carlos Benitez noted that Pagan is a "key linchpin" to the proposed military buildup in the Pacific. But "Pagan is home," saus Aldan. "We have been waiting decades for a chance to return, and now we've been told that we may never go back home because the [Pentagon] needs another firing range."
It's not a dud, its not practicing, its not a computer game -- Former DC lobbyist Juan Carlos Benitez
Former DC Lobbyist Juan Carlos Benitez Calls Pagan
"Key Lynchpin" to Entire US Military Buildup in the Pacific Clynt Ridgell / Guam News
GUAM (October 24, 2013) - Former DC lobbyist Juan Carlos Benitez spoke to the Rotary Club of Guam today about the GUASA or the Guam US Asia Strategic Alliance conference on the Guam build-up.
Former DC lobbyist Juan Carlos Benitez explained that GUASA felt it was necessary to hold the conference in order to educate those on Capitol Hill about why Guam is important strategically and why Guam needs funding for the buildup.
"When you go to capitol hill they keep saying that the Governor of Guam, the Congresswoman of Guam, the Congressman of the Northern Mariana islands, the Governor of the Northern Mariana islands keep asking for all of this money to be released to Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands because they're indispensable to the US.
Well, I come from Mississippi and I can tell you, Mississippi is indispensable for the US defense and I can justify money coming to me. So, we needed somebody else that was a third party, third objective party to actually come in and start explaining to people in congress that it's not just what we think of our role in national security but it is what the national renown and known experts think of the role that this region plays in national security for the United States," said Benitez.
Benitez says that they then tracked down some of the highest profile security experts for the region to bring to the conference so that they could see Guam firsthand for themselves.
While Guam is being touted as strategically important, Benitez says most national security experts agree that the bases in other areas of Asia like Okinawa and Korea provide greater reach than Guam does. However, Benitez says Guam is advantageous for two reasons.
First it is sovereign US soil, which means that the US would not need to seek permission from any foreign government if an attack was launched from Guam. The second is that all fuel that is imported into Asia passes through Guam's military sphere of influence.
"All fuel routes to Asia and China imports 85 percent of it's fuel...would pass through our circle so we basically could eliminate any fuel supply into Asian countries just because that's how the fuel lines run," said Benitez.
While the Record of Decision for the Guam marine relocation is not due until 2015, Benitez pointed out to Rotarians that there are actually five other environmental impact statements for things like the use of other islands in Micronesia as well as the Northern Mariana islands of Tinian and Pagan.
"A lot of people are wondering why is Pagan is so indispensable for this buildup as we move forward. It is a key lynchpin to this entire buildup because you need to train your troops and live fire training and combined live fire training is almost not available anywhere else in the United States anymore and what we mean by combined live fire ranges is you get your troops to land on shore you get your pilots to be carrying live ammunition you get your ships to be bombing from ships using their bigger cannons. So that pilot is feeling for the first time the earth fall hitting his plate from underneath when he has a live bomb under there. It's not a dud, its not practicing, its not a computer game," said Benitez.
The former DC lobbyist says that Pagan is the only island in the Marianas that the military can use for amphibious landings because it is the only one without a reef.
WASHINGTON< DC (July 16, 2008) -- As chairman of the Senate Indian Affairs Committee, John McCain began hearings that helped bring down Jack Abramoff, the disgraced lobbyist who was the central figure in a political scandal that landed Mr. Abramoff in jail.
Now, as Mr. McCain releases the names of hundreds of "bundlers" -- his top money collectors -- one person who popped up is Juan Carlos Benitez, a lawyer and lobbyist whom Mr. Abramoff had championed for a Bush administration post.
According to a 2006 report of the House Committee on Government Reform, Mr. Abramoff had urged the appointment of Mr. Benitez as special counsel for immigration-related unfair employment practices. He was named to the position in 2001.
The committee's report said Mr. Benitez's job at the Justice Department "gave Benitez authority" to conduct investigations into unfair labor practices that were "issues of importance to Abramoff clients."
After leaving the administration, Mr. Benitez joined the K Street lobbying firm Cassidy & Associates, whose Web site says he "has exceptionally close ties to the White House."
Mr. Benitez said Mr. Abramoff had done him no favors. They had competed for lobbying contracts, Mr. Benitez said, adding that Mr. Abramoff had sought an administration job for Mr. Benitez to get him out of the business. Mr. Benitez said he had no communications with Mr. Abramoff while working at the Justice Department.
For Mr. McCain, Mr. Benitez raised $50,000 to $100,000, according to the McCain Web site. Brian Rogers, a McCain spokesman, said: "Jack Abramoff was just one of several people that recommended Mr. Benitez to the Justice Department. The campaign is not aware of any hint of an allegation against Mr. Benitez."
Note: Juan Carlos Benitez is actually Puerto Rican. He married an extremely wealthy Guam resident and now is spearheading the movement to bomb Pagan Island. The GUASA (Guam-US-Asia Strategic Alliance), is a powerful lobbying group comprised of local Guam businesses, defense corporations and right-wing think tanks. Military Lobbyist's Statements 'Appall' Pagan Advocate Junhan B. Todeno / Marianas Variety
(October 29, 2013) -- SAVE Pagan Island advocate Jerome Aldan says a military lobbyist made a "horrible misrepresentation" before a Rotary Club on Guam about the proposed military exercises in the Northern Islands.
Aldan said he was not happy with the comments made by Guam-US-Asia Security Alliance member Juan Carlos Benitez who noted that Pagan is a "key linchpin" to the proposed military buildup on Guam and in the rest of the Marianas.
But "Pagan is home," said Aldan who was born on the volcanic island and is currently the program manager of the Northern Islands mayor's office. "We have been waiting decades for a chance to return, and now we've been told that we may never go back home because the [Department of Defense] needs another firing range."
Referring to Benitez's statements, Aldan said "it is appalling to hear that military lobbyists on Guam are offering other people's homes to profit off construction contracts."
Earlier this year, the Department of Defense issued a notice of intent to turn Pagan into a vast training complex.
Aldan said the proposal is opposed by "the people of Pagan, as well as regional and national organizations worried about the environmental destruction that would occur if DOD were allowed to bomb the island."
Aldan said Benitez, who is from Puerto Rico, should have looked into the destruction and health problems caused by military live-fire training in the Vieques in Puerto Rico, so he could "sympathize with the plight of the dislocated and long exiled" former Northern Island residents.
He said Benitez should get more information about Pagan and the concerns raised by international and regional environmental groups including Roots Action, Care2 Make a Difference, the Sierra Club, and the local Mariana Islands Nature Alliance.
According to Aldan, the military already has control over Farallon de Medinilla.
"Military war birds are presently dropping bombs and silencing native birds on Farallon de Medinilla, an island that is part of the Northern Islands just north of Saipan," he said.
"Our islands in the Marianas are sacred. We have given up Tinian, Tanapag, and FDM already for the defense of our country. We must protect the islands that we now have for the present and future generations to enjoy and benefit from. Enough is enough," he added.
Aldan said the Guam Rotarians should invite advocates with an alternative view regarding Pagan in order to provide balance to the issue.
Variety was unable to get a comment from Benitez or the Guam Rotarians. Marianas Is 'Fulcrum' Of US Military Realignment In Pacific Alexie Villegas Zotomayor / Marianas Variety
SAIPAN, CNMI (September 9, 2013) – The recently concluded Guam-US-Asia security roundtable held on Guam that convened national security and defense experts see the Marianas as the fulcrum of realignment and reinforced the objective of having the Northern Marianas as a training base.
Tinian local historian and mayor's office chief of staff Don Farrell, who attended the regional security roundtable "US Forward Deployed Forces and Asian Security: A Strategic View" at the Hyatt Regency in Tumon, Guam, said, "It was made clear that there would be a Marine Corps base on Guam with about 5,000 Marines and 1,200 dependents, which will provide a considerable economic windfall to Guam, when and if Congress funds the plan. On the other hand, the CNMI will be a Training Base with rotational troops."
The roundtable was organized by GUASA, Guam-US-Asia Security Alliance, a Guam-based, military-buildup lobbyist group.
Gov. Eloy S. Inos and Tinian Mayor Ramon M. Dela Cruz represented the Northern Marianas.
[PIR editor's note: According to the Saipan Tribune, Governor Inos is seeking consultations with top US defense officials to discuss US "plans to build a divert airfield on Saipan despite the CNMI's unified stand to have it on Tinian instead."]
As to having the Northern Marianas as the military training ground, Farrell said there might be a small number of troops stationed on Tinian for maintenance and security but no units with barracks.
He said there will be a smaller direct economic impact after the construction of the ranges.
The closed-door roundtable discussion held Sept. 5-6 brought to Guam experts Carl W. Ford, Patrick M. Cronin, Lt. Gen. Wallace "Chip" Gregson, Bryan Wood and Craig Whelden, among others.
Cronin is a senior advisor and senior director of the Asia-Pacific Security Program at the Center for a New American Security.
Lt. Gen. Wallace C. Gregson, Jr., is senior director, China and the Pacific at the Center for the National Interest.
Gregson Jr. retired from the Marine Corps in 2005, having last served as commander of US Marine Corps Forces Pacific.
Whelden, a retired US Army major general, is currently executive director of Marine Forces Pacific.
Wood is director of the Pacific Division, Plans, Policies and Operations Department of the US Marine Corps.
Ford is a political scientist, consultant, defense administrator, and specialist on Asian affairs.
Farrell said the senior policy advisers said that the China, Korea, and Indonesia problems pose a threat to security in the area and that US Presidents since Nixon and the US Congress have recognized the need for a larger American presence in the Pacific.
"They mentioned that the current global economy and the Syria situation are complicating factors. However, all seemed confident that the buildup in the Marianas will happen, in time," said Farrell.
Asked by Variety if the defense and security experts talked about the future of the Guam-CNMI visa-waiver program, Farrell said the question of Guam and CNMI Visa Waivers for China was addressed.
"It would appear that over time the visa waiver policy for Guam and the CNMI will become one and the same, as with other federal policies, such as minimum wage and immigration," he added.
Farrell shared with Variety that the forum opened with some of America's highest ranking experts on foreign policy reviewing the history of the Pacific War, the role the Mariana Islands played therein, and the impact that the war had on America's strategic policy in the Pacific during the Cold War from Vietnam to the collapse of the Soviet Union.
Farrell said Governor Inos, Mayor Dela Cruz, and Guam lawmakers listened closely as respected civilian foreign-policy experts discussed the Marianas as the "fulcrum of realignment," the "springboard to the Pacific," and "front porch in the Pacific."
He said that such phrases as "America as a strategic enabler" and "America as a resident of the Asia-Pacific Region" were reinforced with dialogues on America's alliances with Japan, the Republic of Korea, Taiwan, the Philippines and Australia relative to the developing economic and military influence of the Peoples Republic of China in the region.
"It was encouraging to know that these men and women clearly understood the value of the strategic location of the Marianas in the Western Pacific, and appreciated that the people of the Marianas had a right to participate in the formulation of the policies that will affect their future," said Farrell.
What Farrell found "most disconcerting" at the roundtable was the lack of a national strategic policy for the Pacific.
"However, it was comforting to hear Carl W. Ford say that a conflict with China is not, and should not be, a foregone conclusion, and that the work of policy makers should be to create a military deterrence and an economic policy in the Pacific that will prevent a China conflict, just as US strategic deterrence and economic policies prevented a US-Russia armed conflict during the Cold War," he said.
The second and last day of the roundtable discussion, Farrell said, focused on the role of the Marianas in Pacific policy planning.
Wood and Whelden talked about the military plans for the Marianas.
"The map of the Mariana Islands Range Complex and the description of how the Marine Corps buildup may be achieved within the MIRC was an eye-opener for all," said Farrell.
"From this, one could not walk away without a feeling of reassurance that the Marine Corps and US Navy are doing everything they can within the restrictions imposed upon them by the objective of their task and the National Environmental Protection Act to work cooperatively with the local civilian community both north and south of the Rota Channel, as their plans are studied and formulated," he said.
Farrell said this meant more room for dialogue between the US military and the CNMI "on how current and future leased lands on Tinian, Pagan and Saipan might be utilized, but not until after the EIS process is concluded in late 2015 or early 2016."
Further, Farrell said the most poignant part of the security conference was when Carl Ford moderated the session on Guam's future role in the region.
In the Q&A part, Farrell said Guam Senator Aline Yamashita "spoke passionately on the injustice being done to the thousands of US veterans in the Marianas who have returned from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome."
He said she spoke of the need for the treatment they earned and deserve as patriots.
At the end of the conference, Farrell said 10 of America's most influential men and women involved in formulating American foreign policy would return to the mainland committed to helping the men and women of the Marianas who have served in uniform get the services they need and they would keep the Marianas in mind in their continuing dialogues with senior policymakers.
Farrell also recognized the efforts of the GUASA organizers Joe Arnett, Carl Peterson, Gerald "Gerry" Perez, John Thomas Brown, Juan Carlos Benitez and others who made the conference possible.
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