Mayor James Matayoshi
Mayor, Rongelap Atoll Local Government
52nd Bravo Nuclear Victims Remembrance Day Speech
RONGELAP’S QUEST FOR A BETTER FUTURE
This is a day of protest, a day of proclamation that the U.S. has not yet fulfilled its own standards of justice and responsibility for our people.
This day takes us back to a time when the U.S. ruled our islands with absolute power, in a way that harmed us and changed us forever. We cannot let the world forget what happened here.
However, the true meaning of Bravo is that we must solve the problems our nation has today. If we fail to find successful solutions, our problems only become more serious in the years ahead.
How we solve these problems will determine whether the future is better or worse for our children.
We need to recognize that the U.S. wants to forget the past and move on.Our job is to make the U.S. remember, but the U.S. can out last us, until the world moves on.
That is why we remain frustrated. We know the RMI has proven its case about the past. The facts are known. Enough facts are now public to prove changed circumstances.
Everyone knows the information released about levels of radiation, the change in the U.S. safety standards, the NCI report on cancers, constitutes changed circumstances. The facts speak for themselves, and in their hearts even the U.S. officials who were instructed to deny it know better.
The U.S. response is that the remedies that have already been provided under the Compact are enough.
We need to realize governments do not always say “Yes” or “No”. Sometimes governments will just talk an issue to death, or, if that doesn’t work, they just kill an idea with silence.
We need to face reality, with both words by some and silence by others the U.S. is saying “No” to the changed circumstances petition.
Even if the political winds shifted in our favor, any further political remedies for RMI would have to be approved by Congress.
The only other remedy is to go to court, and that is exactly what land claimants are going to do.
It is not one way or the other, either political remedies or legal remedies. It must be both. That is where it gets tricky for the RMI, because the U.S. is both an ally and also responsible for the harm that has not been fully compensated.
As long as we remain an ally of the U.S. under the Compact, we will always have to balance our interest in political partnership with our demands forjustice. We will have to pursue political and legal remedies together.
We can confront the U.S. in a more aggressive way, to see if that works better than being patient and cooperative.
Finding the right balance between being patient and confronting difficult issues is part of free association. Balancing our mutual interests withour separate interests, our common goals with our grievances, is one definition of what free association is for the RMI.
As the Mayor of Rongelap, one duty I have is to seek the best politicalresults I can for Rongelap from the RMI national government and the U.S. government. The RALGOV Council and I have a local government agenda,and our trust funds make it possible to take care of many local community needs.
But in many ways our success still depends on the RMI and U.S. agenda on political issues like health care. So we have to pay close attention to what the RMI and U.S. are doing.
We have to learn the lessons that are taught by the successes and failures of the RMI and U.S. under the Compact.
As we gather here today, the RMI effort to achieve political remedies for changed circumstances has produced limited success. The U.S. position is that DOE funding for limited health and monitoring programs for the four atolls will continue, and perhaps the funding for the Section 177 health care program will continue at the 1 million or 2 million dollar level.
As a local government we will support the RMI efforts seeking better political remedies on health care and all other issues of national importance. We will support the RMI no matter who what Administration is in power. Our support is about national unity, not politics.
But the people of Rongelap also know that the focus in Washington is the war on terrorism, the pressure on Congress to cut existing spending, and stop new spending.
If we do not recognize the larger forces that drive U.S. decisions about political remedies for the RMI, and we just fight among ourselves over whose fault it is, we only make it harder to understand why the U.S. does not meet its obligations to the RMI on nuclear testing issues.
When the U.S. denies the political remedies we seek, and we do not think it is fair, the only option that leaves us is to seek legal remedies. But we need to be realistic. Legal results are even harder to achieve than political remedies.
Even so, RALGOV has supported our traditional leaders in their Nuclear Claims Tribunal case seeking full compensation for land claims. We are paying for scientific experts, legal counsel and other forms of supportfor this NCT case.
RALGOV is willing to work with the traditional leaders to continue to cooperate in bringing a case before the U.S. federal courts based on the NCT award. RALGOV is supporting the land claims case because legal remedies for the land claims will benefit all the people of Rongelap.
Rongelap will be having community meetings in Majuro, Ebeye and Mejattolater this month to inform the community about all these issues.
We will hear what the scientific experts and the lawyers have to say about political and legal remedies. We will talk with the people aboutresettlement and land claims. We will openly discuss the political and legal issues.
That is how democracy works, and that is how self-government works. We will consider safety of our people first when we talk about resettlement, as well as economic development and job creation.
But we will also consider the impact of resettlement on legal remedies,and the impact of litigation in the courts on political remedies.
Finding the right balance, a balance that is responsible, is the duty of leaders at the local government and national level in the RMI.
If we do not find the right balance, if we miscalculate, we could make the future worse for our children. If we are wise and if we find the right balance, we can make the future better for our children.
That is what Rongelap must do, no matter which way the political winds blow in Majuro or Washington.
On March 1, 1954, the U.S. knew which way the winds were blowing, but we didn’t. Now we need to know which way the winds are blowing, and we need to make informed logical decisions about how to protect ourselves and ourchildren.
That is the only way to take our destiny into our own hands, and never leave it in the hands of the U.S. or any other power again.
Even as the political winds shift in the U.S. political and legal process, we must keep our balance and not allow political storms in our own political system to force us off course.
Instead of blaming the problems of the past or the present on each other and fighting among ourselves, our duty and our calling as Marshallese must be to control our own destiny.
That is the real lesson of BRAVO, and I hope and pray that we have learned that lesson.
Rongelap is just one community in the RMI, but we are on a quest for abetter future. We want to be part of the larger RMI quest for a betterfuture as well.
But our quest must begin locally, by finding the right balance in our pursuit of our political and legal remedies. We do not shrink from that challenge just because it gets difficult. We welcome the change and the opportunity that comes with it.
There is no retreat, no surrender, if we are to do our duty to our children and our nation.