Saturday, July 21, 2001

Vote addresses
Micronesian suffering

Church of Christ calls for justice
over atomic and nuclear radiation

By Mary Adamski

Micronesians are still suffering from the fallout of nuclear tests the United States ended 43 years ago and a major religious organization has vowed to be a force for justice on their behalf.

The General Synod of the United Church of Christ earlier this week passed a pronouncement that confesses "silent complicity as United States citizens in perpetuating nuclear poisoning and economic exploitation" of the people in the sparsely settled South Pacific islands.

About 40 Hawaii residents attended the national biennial conference in Kansas City, Mo., which also committed to develop strategies including "ways to pressure the U.S. President, the U.S. Congress and the related agencies of the U.S. government to provide a more just compensation for the Marshallese people affected by the nuclear and atomic radiation caused by 67 tests."

The Hawaii-initiated action was timed to the current negotiations between the United States and the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands, said the Rev. Ronald Fujiyoshi of Hilo, one of the Hawaii conference delegates. Washington seeks a 15-year extension of the Compact of Free Association under which it will continue to assume defense and security responsibility. The Marshall Islands government is asking for $2.7 billion for damages.

Residents of Hawaii, which has become the second home for thousands of Micronesians, are more aware of the lingering effects of the nuclear tests than the rest of the nation, said Fujiyoshi.

Many of the people who come here are seeking medical attention for cancer, thyroid disorders and other health problems that are the legacy of fallout now affecting a third generation of islanders. Earlier this month, about 100 Pacific islanders demonstrated outside Queen's Medical Center and other hospitals which will not accept them because they cannot pay. Because of their nonresident status, federal law excludes them from state Medicaid and MedQuest coverage. The state attorney general ruled the islanders are ineligible for public assistance.

"The U.S. is bargaining saying 'we already paid you $150 million' under the initial Compact of Free Association 15 years ago," said Fujiyoshi. "At that time the full effect of 67 atomic tests was not known. Since then 60 boxes of information has become available. Most is blacked out for security reasons but it became obvious that the U.S. government knew fallout would affect people on Utrik Atoll and Rongelop Atoll." People were relocated from some islands in the testing area but not from those, he said.

Utrik resident Ella Ben spoke to the gathering representing the denomination's 6,000 churches. She told about losing a child to cancer and about her own thyroid cancer. "It was very powerful," said Fujiyoshi. "It was the only time you could hear a pin drop in the assembly."

He said the pronouncement "Ministry and Witness with Micronesians" will be used as a teaching document throughout the membership of the United Church of Christ. Members will work to begin a dialogue with government agencies to discuss a way to include the Pacific Islanders within the ranks of qualified non-immigrants who are eligible for government assistance programs.

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