By Balhaim Sakuma
Executive Director, Belau Cares
After more than 200 years under foreign domination Palau was "allowed" by the US to become an independent nation. We were told by the US that we could choose the kind of government we want and write our own constitution. Thirty-one years ago, in 1978, the people of Palau wrote the first Nuclear-Free Constitution in the world and adopted it by an overwhelming majority vote of 92%. This took the US by surprise. Immediately a team from Washington DC arrived in Palau with a message that Palau could not choose a Nuclear-Free Constitution government.
The succeeding 10 years were years of turmoil and conflict between the US and Palau because we stood up and told the US that we would not allow any kind of nuclear to enter within the 200-mile territory of Palau. Palauans suffered so much and went through so much hardship during the 10 years of fighting with USA for our right to be Nuclear-Free. The President Haruo Remeliik, who supported the nuclear-free constitution, was assassinated. At that time I was fighting with him as an advisor to him. Some of us lost their lives. When women activists held a meeting at a house, a bomb was thrown to them. When I was attending the World Conference in early eighties, my house was burnt out. I myself was also attempted to be killed several times. The US forced us to hold a national referendum about six times to get the people's support for the revision of the constitution. But it did not meet the requirement of the constitution, 75% of the people's support. The US finally came up with some kind of legal maneuvering to lower the 75% requirement to 50% and forced Palau to accept the Compact of Free Association. But Palauan people fought against such violence, intimidation and bribery and no one can dispute the fact the majority of Palauans are against nuclear weapons.
People of the Pacific have been suffering not only from war but from damage of nuclear weapons. The US conducted 57 nuclear tests at Bikini and Eniwetok in the Marshall Islands after WW II. France tested their bombs in Tahiti. UK tested at Christmas Island and Australia. Thus, the Pacific has been used as a nuclear playground. The people are still nomads with no place they can call home because their islands are highly contaminated.
After the nuclear-free constitution was neglected by the US, Palau was forced to conclude the Compact of Free Association, which substantially made Palau a colony of the US. The US can use our lands for its military if and when the US chooses to.
Our lands, our life, the future of our children are still determined by big powers. Even if we are a small island nation, we have national pride. It is us who should determine how to use our lands and what nation we should establish relationship with.