Let Us Achieve Victory This Year! –Struggle against the construction of a new U.S. base in Henoko, Okinawa in its 16th year–
It is 15 years since the plan was first drawn up to build a new U.S. base off Henoko Beach, Nagao City, Okinawa. In defiance of the rising opposition of the people of Okinawa, the government of Japan dared to go ahead with the submission of its Environment Impact Statement (EIS) to the Okinawa Prefectural government. The struggle is now approaching a critical stage.
Japan Federation of Democratic Medical Institutions (Min-Iren) carried out the 25th round of the Henoko Support and Solidarity Action from January 12 to 14.
At Henoko, ever since the new base construction plan was announced, the protest sit-ins have been staged by the local people.
In the tent village overlooking Oura Bay, where the sit-in is carried out, “Grandpa Kayo” (Mr. Kayo Sogi), to be 91 years old this year, spoke in front of the young workers of Min-Iren coming from different parts of Japan.
“Next year, we hope to declare the end of all U.S. military bases anywhere in Japan. I sincerely ask for your great help to our struggle with bowing my frosty head deeply.”
Chosen as an alternative to Futenma Base
The plan for building a new base off Henoko beach of Nago City surfaced for the first time in 1996. In the previous year, a schoolgirl was raped by U.S. servicemen, which sparked the entire Okinawa outrage. With the height of the people’s voice, “No more U.S. bases,” the protest rally drew as many as 85,000 people of Okinawa.
In the face of this situation, the U.S. and Japanese governments agreed to remove Futenma Base on the condition that a replacement base would be built within the prefecture. Their plan was to build an offshore base at Henoko.
Fifteen years of nonviolent struggle
The citizens of Nago raised fierce opposition to the plan of reclaiming the sea off Henoko to build an offshore base. They stood up for a struggle by staging sit-in to prevent the start of the construction work.
In the face of the locals’ opposition, the two governments gave up the offshore base plan in 2006. Instead, they turned to another plan to reclaim the shore of U.S. Marines’ Camp Schwab located in Henoko district and to build a V-shape runway. But this plan, too, would destroy the sea of Henoko all the same.
“We must not let them create a murderous military base in this beautiful sea”, said Mr. Gushiken Toru, member of Nago City Assembly (Japanese Communist Party). “More than 60 years ago, Okinawa experienced a tragic war fought on our land. If we allow a new base to be built now, Okinawa will once again become a sortie base for wars. We should never ever repeat the war”, he said passionately.
Next year will mark our victory
It is your power that has maintained the heat in this tent village. For that, I’d like to say thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Chronology of the Struggle at Henoko
Environmental Impact Statement submitted in defiance of the people’s opposition
“No more passing around of U.S. bases inside Okinawa!” is becoming a dominant voice among the people of Okinawa.
During the gubernatorial election of November 2010, “No to U.S. bases in Okinawa” was heard as a united call of the people. Mr. Nakaima Hirokazu, after re-elected as the governor confirmed publicly that it would be difficult to accept the relocation of Futenma Base to Henoko.
In Nago City, in January 2010, Mr. Inamine Susumu was elected Mayor, upholding a firm opposition to the base construction. In Nago City Assembly election in September 2010, 16 anti-base candidates were elected, including Mr. Gushiken, forming the majority in the 27-member city assembly.
However, the government of Japan ignored such public opinion of the prefecture. On December 28, 2011, it forced its way through to deliver the “Environment Impact Statement” to the prefectural government, which was a mandatory process before applying for the permission to start the base construction work.
Having learned about the planned submission of the statement, people gathered at the prefectural government office 2 days before the delivery. Faced with the blockade by the people, the Okinawa Defense Bureau dodged its way through the protest by sneakily delivering the statement at 4:00 in the morning into the security guards room of the prefectural government office.
United will of the people of Okinawa
In the wake of this outrage, Nago City Assembly convened an extraordinary session on January 13 this year. The 16 anti-base members submitted a draft resolution in “Protest against the government for its submission of the environmental impact statement in disregard of the collective opinion of the people of Nago and Okinawa as a whole.” The resolution was adopted with the support of Komeito. As of end of January, the government of Japan intends to apply to the governor of Okinawa for permission to reclaim the shore of Henoko around June 2012, for starting the construction work in 2013. Now the struggle has reached a critical moment.
Looking at the sea of Henoko, Mr. Agarie Hideaki of Nago Chapter of Okinawa Medical Co-operatives said proudly, “Although 15 years have passed since the plan was first announced, our struggle has prevented them from driving even one pile into the sea of Henoko.”
“Since the governor’s election of 2010, the people of Okinawa have become strongly united. A conviction has been grown among the people that if they are united in struggle, they can defeat the construction plan. Passing the base around inside Okinawa will not work. We need to make one another effort”, he said.
Mr. Gushiken stated, “The sneaky delivery of the EIS showed that the government has become desperate in its useless resistance. Now is the time to deal a finishing blow to drive them into abandoning the construction plan.”
Closing the base is the only alternative
In August 2011, the Okinawa Defense Bureau established Nago Branch office, employing 6 staff members. The Bureau has a plan to increase the staff to 44 members. This planned increase of the staff is seen as an effort to put pressure on the citizens of Nago into accepting the base construction.
Since 2004, Min-Iren has conducted the Henoko Support and Solidarity Actions regularly. By January this year, 1500 members of Min-Iren staff have joined the sit-ins.
“We have been able to maintain our struggle thanks to the support of the people from all over Japan. ‘Relocation’ of the base cannot be a solution. Closure is the only way”, Mr. Gushiken said, clenching his fist firmly.
(By Miyatake Maki; Photo by Mamezuka Takashi)
No new base on the sea, or on the land
Inamine Takashi, Mayor of Nago City
In Nago City mayoral election held in January 2010, I won by holding up a promise saying, “I will not allow a new base to be built in the sea of Henoko, or on the land.” In the following month, the Okinawa Prefectural Assembly unanimously adopted the resolution to call for the base relocation outside Japan or Okinawa. In the gubernatorial election of November 28, with the height of the public opinion in favor of the “opposition to the relocation of Futenma Airfield within Okinawa”, the incumbent Governor Nakaima was re-elected by changing his position into calling for the “review on the Japan-U.S. Joint Statement and relocation of the base outside Okinawa.” This is the consequence of the current situation of Okinawa.
Further, some members of the U.S. Congress are saying, “Relocation of Futenma to Henoko is unlikely” or “The Marines are unnecessary.” In light of such changes of the situation, as the Mayor of Nago City, I will visit the United States in early February to convey the voices of the citizens of Nago and the people of Okinawa opposing the new base construction, to the government, the Congress and the people of the U.S.
Continuous activities carried out by the people from all over Japan to prevent the construction of a new base in the beautiful sea of Henoko have encouraged the citizens of Nago tremendously. I would like to express our deep respect and gratitude to them.
Continuation of the U.S. Futenma Airfield as it is or its relocation within Okinawa is totally out of the question, as it would deny the right of the people of Okinawa to live happily in peace. We should never let our children and grandchildren experience the history of misery and hardships again.
While the way the Environmental Impact Statement was submitted was unacceptable, the City of Nago will carefully review the content, including the points referred to in the procedural documents and preparatory documents. We will surely communicate the opinion of Nago City to the government.
At any rate, the submission of the EIS does not mean the situation would move forward. Nago City remains in no position to accept the relocation of Futenma Airfield. We are determined to be consistent in our opposition to the construction of a new base either on the sea or on the land. (February 1, 2012)