In Saipan, where tourism and the garment industry are in free-fall, a pro-monument petition attracted 6000 signatures and the Hotel Association and the Chamber of Commerce endorsed turning the waters around the three northernmost islands—Maug, Asuncion and Uracus—into a marine national monument.
“Almost no one is able to enjoy these islands at this time,” wrote Lynn Knight, chairwoman of the association, in a letter to Bush, while monument status would “boost the local economy in promoting ecotourism”.
In contrast, the governor and most of the legislature have voiced their opposition to what they call “The Pew Monument” in language that strikingly resembles Wespac’s.
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“The opposition was led by Wespac in every regard,” said Rick Gaffney, a former Wespac council member. “Without Wespac,” added Andrew Salas, a former Marianas legislator, “the opposition would have been minimal. There would have been a bit of grumbling because relations between the Marianas government and the federal government are pretty bad these days, but that’s it, because the overwhelming majority of the people support the monument.”I think that line about Mafnas getting $600 per diem is incorrect. I think only the 13 council members get per diem; the advisory councils just get reimbursed for their expenses. I'm not affiliated with WESPAC, so I actually don't know the answer.
Wespac is under investigation by the US General Accountability Office and the Inspector General of the Commerce Department for suspected illegal lobbying.
In a letter to Bush that received wide publicity in Saipan, Aha Kiole, an organisation essentially created by Wespac to prevent marine reserves from being created in Hawaii, accused the president of having created the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands reserve “without the participation of the Native Hawaiian people,” all of whom feel “anger, trepidation and despair” whenever the monument “is mentioned.”
Although more than 100 hearings were held on the issue over six years, the letter asserts that most Hawaiians “did not know that the Pew Foundation was planning to take three-fourths of Hawaiian lands and make it into a monument.” (In fact, the total land area of the ten-islet monument is 13 sq km, while the rest of Hawaii totals 16,635sq km).
The Marianas monument, the letter continued, “will take an integral part of the Marianas culture away from the native people—with no hope of ever getting this part of their heritage back”.
Like all federal agencies, Wespac is barred from spending federal funds to lobby the legislative branches of state and federal government. The General Accounting Office, the investigative arm of Congress, and the Inspector General of the Commerce Department are currently both investigating allegations that Wespac lobbied the US Congress and the Hawaii legislature to push its pro-fishing, anti-conservation agenda, notably in creating Aha Kiole.
In Saipan, much of the political elite has ties to Wespac. The governor’s chief of staff, Ray Mafnas, is a senior, unsalaried Wespac official who collects over US$600 a day every time he travels for Wespac. Arnold Palacios, Speaker of the House, is a former member of the Wespac council. He wrote in a letter to Bush that the “loss of control over such a vast area of land and water is an assault on the traditions and culture of the islands.”
The representative Speaker Palacios appointed as chairman of the House Federal Relations Committee, Representative Diego Benavente, is a former lieutenant governor who is running for governor. He engineered the approval of two (sic) He was president of the Saipan Fishermen’s Association in 2005 when it got a US $150,000 grant from Wespac to rent and equip a store to sell its members’ catch.
But this past December, the Marianas Variety reported that the store had closed two months after it opened because of unexpected expenses “like utilities, rent, and salaries.”
Benavente was quoted as saying: “We ran out of money, basically.”
Valentin Taisakan, the mayor of the Northern Islands Municipality, which lies south of the three islands designated as a monument by Bush in January, also wrote to Bush in opposition to the monument.
Taisakan, who lives in Saipan, received a US$90,000 Wespac grant to create a fishing base in his remote municipality, but the base never opened, according to Saipan sources.
In another letter to Bush opposing the designation, Juan Borja Tudela, the mayor of Saipan, where most of the Marianas’ 65,000 people live, said the monument waters should be left under the control of Wespac, which he called “much more sensitive to the Pacific Islanders’ way of life.”
Wespac’s vice-chairman, Manny Duenas, head of a fishermen’s group in Guam, went further in his own letter to Bush. “The taking of our marine resources may be construed as being no different than cattle rustling” and it would “serve as a springboard to ensure the cultural genocide of a people,” he wrote.