Monday, March 23, 2009

Faleomavaega Snubs Palau President

When global transportation and communication reached a critical mass of speed in the nineteenth century, someone invented time zones and the International Dateline so that everyone in the world would be synchronized. It is at the Dateline that east literally meets west. But in the geopolitical world, the edge of the west is the far edge of the western Pacific, since the Pacific is a preserve of the so-called “Western Powers.”

The Republic of Palau is one of the Frontline States in the far west, abutting the eastern edge of the Muslim world. Although you cannot actually see the southern Philippines from Palau, the home of the Muslim terrorist group Abu Sayyaf, it is so close it hardly is more than canoe paddling distance away. Therefore, Palau, which elected a new president about the time Barack Obama was elected last fall, is of enormous strategic importance to the United States. Moreover, the timing of the change of both administrations coincided with the expiration of certain provisions of the Republic’s compact of free association with the U.S. Highly sensitive negotiations already are underway to extend the life of these provisions and Palau would like to enhance the relationship further. Hence, the President's visit.

So, it is no wonder that the new chief executive, Johnson Toribiong, was received at the highest levels at the Department of State, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Moreover, on Capitol Hill, he had meetings with Senators Daniel Akaka (D-HI), John McCain (R-AZ) and Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), all senior members of committees with jurisdiction over Palau affairs. On the House side, he met with Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV), insular subcommittee chairman Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU) and her insular colleagues Donna Christensen (D-VI) and Greg Sablan (D-MP). Rahall also paid tribute to Toribiong by attending an embassy reception honoring the president, at which Toribiong reported spoke warmly of Palau-U.S. friendship.

What was painfully apparent by omission from the Palau press release on the President’s Washington visit was the absence of Eni Faleomavaega, who not only was the only Pacific delegate not to see Toribiong but is doubly bad because he is the chairman of the House panel with jurisdiction over U.S.-Palau relations: the subcommittee on Asia, Pacific and the global environment. While Eni had staff meet with the Palauan leader, some in attendance at the embassy reception were said to have been horrified and embarrassed that not only did Eni pass up the event, he sent no senior staff.

Where was Eni? He was back home to attend the funeral of Paramount Chief Sen. Tuitele Tuitele after just having completed election observation in the Federated States of Micronesia as head of an international delegation. That mission, while the U.S. House was in session and working long hours on the global financial crisis, must have caused a few chuckles in Washington circles, since FSM has a history of free and fair elections and there have been no allegations of irregularities.

Thank goodness the funeral could spare Faleomavaega from spending some distasteful days in Washington even if that meant shirking the one duty he says he prizes over all the others: serving as the House’s chief (self-appointed) diplomat to the Asia and pacific region. No, in this case, local politics came first because this chief presided over the western part of Tutuila where Eni draws his electoral strength. It is his sizable margins in Leone village and its environs that offset the obvious lack of enthusiasm for him elsewhere in the territory.

A couple of years ago he missed the funeral of High Chief Faiivae, a lesser chief also in Leone and then the funeral of Paramount Chief Fuimaono, so he could not afford to miss another. He was forced to miss the Faiivae funeral when Speaker Pelosi insisted he stay back for an important energy bill in committee, where he has a vote, but thanks to Democrats’ swollen majorities following the 2008 election, he is no longer under any such constraints. And thanks to the size of his own victory, he doesn’t seem to be under any local constraints at all, but why take a chance? If the feelings of the President of Palau and Palau-U.S. relations were all that were at stake, why bother with the raw weather in Washington when it is more pleasant in Pago Pago?

It is doubtful that Eni’s diplomatic snub will affect U.S. negotiations with Palau but it is just the latest example of how the wandering delegate does what he pleases when he pleases without any regard for the duties which he says he has been elected to perform. If he could miss Faiivae’s funeral and also the funeral for Paramount Chief A.U. Fuimaono, another powerful traditional leader in the west who gave Eni his first job in Washington, he certainly could have passed up the rites for Tuitele. But there is never a price to pay, no matter what decision he makes and Samoa News will be the first to lead the cheers.

1 comment:

busycorner said...

No mention here if Mrs. Radewagen (AKA Amata, Aumua, Amata Aumua et al) was at the funeral. That's where she needs to win if she is going to beat Eni (unless he dies first).

Meeting a presidential guy from "a vitally strategic" place like Palau is important but so is keeping your job. Go to funerals, kiss babies!

Oh wait! Wasn't Palau the home to "Survivor six"?
Now that's important.