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Dear Mr. Ambassador, Why Keep Nonviolent Activists Out of South Korea?
On March 17, 2012 Veterans For Peace members, Elliott Adams and Tarak Kauff delivered this letter to the Republic of South Korea’s Consulate in New York, NY
Honorable Ambassador Choi Young-jin
Ambassador of the Republic of Korea
2320 Massachusetts Ave. NW.
Washington, DC 20008
Dear Mr. Ambassador,
Many of us, as US soldiers, went to South Korea to protect and assure its democracy. It is with a sad heart that we, now as US veterans, watch as the Republic of Korea becomes a republic in name only.
Recently three US veterans were invited by the people of Jeju to come and see whether the charges that freedom of speech is being suppressed and democracy is being subverted by the ROK government were true. We were forcibly deported by the ROK government officials.
The ROK Constitution Article 21 (1) guarantees freedom of speech. The people of the United States and the people of ROK know that freedom of speech is the foundation on which democracy is built. Without freedom of speech there can be no democracy.
This experience reinforces the rumors we had heard that democracy no longer exists in ROK. It is a hard moment when we get slapped in the face with facts which we wanted to believe were rumors. Because of this experience we are forced to believe that ROK can no longer be considered to be in the family of democracies.
Since we do not speak Korean we can only repeat what we have repeatedly heard, things we hoped we would find were wrong when we got to Gangjeong-dong.
Supporting the idea that ROK no longer respects the right of the people and indeed is not democratic we have heard:
That a major military base is being placed in Jeju against the will of the people.
That to do this the ROK government is sending hundreds, maybe thousands, of riot police to suppress the peoples freedom of speech. That there many even be more police in Gangjeong-dong than there are citizens.
That a travesty is being perpetrated on the people of Jeju by the ROK government such as happened in 1948.
That the Honorable Major Kang Dong-Kyun of Gangjeong (in Jeju) is persecuted, even arrested, when expressing the will of the people he represents.
That the people have requested and been denied the right to have a binding referendum on whether this massive naval base should be built in Jeju.
That surveys have shown that as many as 94% of the people are opposed to the military base.
That the Honorable Governor of Jeju, as a representative of the people, has petitioned the ROK government for redress and demanded that the base not be forced on them.
That the people of Jeju are being daily denied and even arrested for exercising their constitutionally protected right of free speech.
That the Past Governor of Jeju, Shin Goo-Beom, in frustration at the disregard of the ROK government for the wishes of the people entered into a hunger strike.
That the provincial legislative assembly of Jeju, acting as the representative of their people, has opposed this military base being forced upon them. They have also gone in person to try to deliver a stop work order to the base commander and were denied even the opportunity to present it. This even though the autonomy of the provincial governments is guaranteed by the ROK Constitution.
That the Asian Human Rights Commission is initiating an investigation of arbitrary arrests being used to suppress free speech and other acts of democracy.
That numerous Catholic priests have been jailed for using their constitutionally guaranteed rights to live within what their consciences require
Supporting the idea that this will be an environmental disaster we have heard:
That on the small island of Jeju there are 5 UNESCO designated sites, covering 18,846 hectars.
That the National Park was designated as UNESCO Bio Reserve in 2002 and a World Heritage Sit in 2007 and a National Monument by ROK. That it is the highest point in South Korea and has 4,000 species of animal, 3,300 species of insect, 1800 species of plants, many of these species are endangered.
That the people of Jeju have not even been given a simple description of what the base will be. Some ROK Naval sources describe it as a 125-acre base while other say they are only blasting away 1.2 km of the existing rocks.
That this section of coastal rock is a source of the fresh water spring that serves the communities.
That in 2002, the coastal area where the base in being sited was designated as a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve.
That the waters off the coast were designated as a marine ecosystem protection zone by the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries in 2002
That these waters were designated a Cultural Heritage Administration natural monument protection zone in 2004.
That this section of coast is habitat for the red-footed crab, narrow-mouthed toad and wild fauna designated as endangered by the Ministry of Environment.
That on the site of the base have been found the Jeju saebaengi, a freshwater shrimp that is a candidate for endangered species status and Cladium chinense, a rare variety of flora.
That in October 2001 the Jeju Provincial Government, in recognition of the environmental importance of the area, designated it as an area of absolute protection.
That secretary-general Lee Yeong-ung of Jeju Korea Federation for Environmental Movements said “The croaking of frogs from the Gureombi coast (where the base will be built) in the summertime is enough to leave you in a trance.”
Supporting the idea that this will be cultural disaster we have heard:
“I don’t understand why we’re trying so hard to accommodate something people in Okinawa tried so hard to resist,” said Kim Jong-hwan, 55, referring to the Japanese islanders’ struggle against the American military base there. “When I think how the Americans go around the world starting wars, I can only expect the worst.”
That ironically in 2005 that ROK legislature name Jeju “the peace island.”
That these rocks and the their fresh water springs the have deep spiritual and religious significance.
That the Halmangmul spring in particular is regarded as a sacred spring by villagers holding ancestral rites.
That the naval base will cut off no less than 7 of the popular Jeju Olle hiking trails; a measure of the cultural and tourist importance of this site.
That people on Jeju are so spiritually connected to the Guerombi rock formation the (rocks that are being blasted even now) that they refer to them as “living rocks”
The people in Gangjeong depend on these rocks to gather the green seaweed they eat in winter.
Supporting the idea that this base will be bad for the national security of ROK and will destabilize peace in the region we have heard:
That Catholic Bishop Kang Woo Il, Chairman of Korea Priest Assembly said, “If this base becomes a reality it will stimulate a larger conflict in Northeast Asia. We believe it is not healthy for the peace of Korea, for Northeast Asia, for the whole world.”
That many on the mainland of South Korea view this Naval base as bad for the national security of South Korea.
That this naval base will be seen as a military threat to China and may jeopardize trade with China. And that South Korea currently does more trade with China than is does with the US and Japan combined.
That this base is really part of a US confrontation with China and the ROK will become as the saying goes “the shrimp whose back gets broken in a fight between whales”
That many South Koreans suspect Washington is exploiting their sense of vulnerability to advance American foreign policy interests.
That this is happening despite the fact that in 2006, after years of pressure from the US, Washington was forced to agree to respect South Korea’s wish not to be “involved in a regional conflict in Northeast Asia against the will of the Korean people.”
That Ellen O. Tauscher, the American Under Secretary of State for Arms Control and International security, said the United States wanted South Korea to expand the allies’ low-level missile defense ties into an integrated regional missile defense system, which some experts suspect was intended as a shield for US interests against China.
That regardless of what is said now about the use of a Jeju naval base, there are in place US/ROK treaties that give the US the right to use all ROK military bases with no input from the people.
While we veterans of the US military may, for example, have an interest in sponsoring democracy in North Korea we have a vested interest in maintaining the democracy of ROK.
Since we were denied the opportunity to see for ourselves:
We ask the Honorable Ambassador to give us evidence that democracy is not being suppressed in Jeju.
We ask the Honorable Ambassador for proof that the ROK government is not stifling free speech in Jeju.
We ask the Honorable Ambassador give evidence that this proposed base will not be an environmental disaster.
We ask the Honorable Ambassador to give evidence that the base will not be a cultural disaster.
Elliott Adams Tarak Kauff