Senator and soldier part of protest that blocked air base gate
The Guam National Guard deferred comment on Sen. Fernando Esteves’ participation in blocking the gate at Andersen Air Force Base Saturday afternoon during a protest against the plan for a military live-fire training range complex.
Esteves is a Guam Army National Guard staff sergeant, assigned to the 1st-294th Infantry Regiment as a medic, Maj. Josephine Blas, spokeswoman for the Guam National Guard, confirmed.
She deferred comment on whether Esteves’ conduct was acceptable as a soldier.
Esteves also is chairman of the Guam legislature’s ethics committee, which recently found a colleague, Sen. James Espaldon, violated the Legislature’s ethics rules, which say, in part: “a member or staff employee of (the legislature) shall conduct the person’s life, both public and private, so as to bring honor and respect to the person’s office.”
Esteves was part of a human chain that blocked vehicles trying to exit the gate at Andersen Air Force Base Saturday afternoon, clapping and at one point yelling, to the base security.
“Call the base commander. You want it open? Call the base commander. Get him off the golf course,” Esteves said as he paced across the entrance and exit to the main gate at the base.
The proposed live-fire training complex is being built for the estimated 4,700 U.S. Marines who are being moved here from Okinawa. The Marines are being moved to Guam because the United States and Japan agreed more than a decade ago to ease the presence of U.S. troops in Okinawa by shifting some of them to Guam, Hawaii and Australia.
The base is host to a missile defense system, and just hours after the protest, launched a B-1B bomber aircraft close to North Korean airspace, as confirmed yesterday by the U.S. Pacific Command.
Harold Cruz, the chief of staff for Sen. William Castro, was arrested at the protest. He was seen being escorted off the premises, according to Joni Kerr, a marine biology professor at the Guam Community College and one of the individuals attending the protest.
Cruz was booked and released by Saturday afternoon.
He joined more than 100 other activists as they protested the planned construction of a live firing range. The firing range’s location will be within the fence at Andersen, but the area is adjacent to the Guam National Wildlife Refuge at Ritidian. Part of Ritidian will be limited to public access as a safety buffer zone is required when the live-fire training is under way, according to military documents.
The protesters’ group argues that the range’s construction would uproot acres of ancient lime stone forest that is home to endangered species, and adversely affect the environment.
Cruz was seen among the 30 or so protesters blocking the road to the main entrance of the air force base.
A statement from the Guam Police Department indicated that Cruz was the “main agitator” and was arrested for failure to disperse, obstructing a public roadway and disorderly conduct.
Prutehi Litekyan stated on social media that obstructing the roadway was meant to symbolize the obstruction and destruction happening on Guam by forces that do not give island’s people any voice about what is done to Guam. The military changed the preferred location – from the Pagat area off Route 15 to within Andersen – in response to public comments that the Pagat area hosts ancient cultural sites.
Sen. Castro told the Guam Daily Post he would also not abandon his chief of staff for acting on his ideals.
“I do not condone the breaking of any laws. Yes, he is my chief of staff as he was to the late Sen. Angel Santos. He acted on his own accord,” Castro said.
“I am neither anti-military or anti-American but I will not turn my back on someone who stands for something bigger than himself. He was protesting against historical injustices and potentially future injustices against our natural resources.”
Cruz is seen on video shouting to military personnel stationed at the entrance. “Call the base commander. We are willing to negotiate with the base commander,” he said.
Maria Hernandez, another protester, said that a total of about 150 people attended the protest. Kerr said the protest started at around 11 a.m. The first police vehicle arrived about 45 minutes after and by 12:30 p.m. about four or five police vehicles had arrived.
The protesters dispersed a little after 1 p.m., Kerr added.
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