By David Ware and Dr. Rieko Hayakawa
A DEVELOPING STORY
Rachelle Bergeron was a young 33-year-old American woman with a mission to help relieve suffering in less developed nations around the world. The Wisconsin native who had made a successful legal career in New York City accepted the challenge to travel 8,399 miles to Yap Island, the home of 11,000 residents at 9° N. Lat. 138° E. Long., in the Federated States of Micronesia to serve as Assistant Attorney General.
She opposed both organized criminal elements and hindrances caused by policies of the FSM government. A number of American media outlets have picked up this story and they have focused understandably upon the human element about this tragic assassination of a dedicated young Christian woman who just wanted to help stop human trafficking and domestic abuse wherever they occur.
Ms. Bergeron recognized the dangers in what she was doing. She reportedly had been sleeping with a machete under her pillow and took her dog along for a jog for protection. But an apparent shotgun blast in her own driveway killed both her and her faithful canine companion one evening last week.
THE THREAT FROM CHINA
Yap Governor Henry Falan has been fighting corruption against wealthy businessmen linked to the Chinese government since he took office this year. By his side until a few days ago fighting with him was his acting attorney general, Rachelle Bergeron.
The reforms Mr. Falan and Ms. Bergeron were making have raised suspicions that Ms. Bergeron’s death could be linked to enemies she and the governor have made as a result of their crackdown on corruption. That corruption involves multimillion dollar deals the previous Yap governor entered into with Chinese corporations interested in developing the island, which is the closest to the Mariana archipelago of all the islands of Micronesia.
Earlier this year the governor invited the U.S. FBI to investigate Chinese activities on the island and its connections to illegal development, human trafficking, and other transnational crimes. Ms. Bergeron had led the local effort in the Yap State government’s cooperation with the United States.
U.S. interests in the region are climbing due to to the increased attempt by the Chinese to infiltrate the economies of Micronesia with foreign investment that has begun to validate Chinese interests over this geopolitical sphere of influence.
STATUS OF YAP
Yap is one of the four states of the Federated States of Micronesia, an independent nation in the Far Western Pacific which was previously part of the U.S Trust Territory of the Pacific Islands. The nation still maintains a special relationship with the United States which is responsible for its defense, mail delivery, national currency which is the U.S. dollar, law enforcement support and economic assistance.
FSM citizens may live and work in the United States and Americans may live and work there. Yap has struggled to maintain its own indigenous native culture. Tourism is not a significant factor in the islands. But, unfortunately, the inhabitants are not immune to the outside influences of crime and corruption, particularly under the concerted efforts of the Chinese Communist Party to infiltrate all Pacific Island Countries.
DR. RIEKO HAYAKAWA
At this point, we here at NOQ Report take great pleasure in this opportunity to introduce many Americans to an eminent Japanese scholar, currently in New Zealand, who has done an enormous service to the people of the Pacific Islands for the last 30 years.
What follows is her own blog just published today which was prepared in coordination with this article. In her own words, she provides significant insights which reveal why we here in the United States should be more interested in paying much closer attention to all our friends in the Pacific.
Real communication by Dr. Rieko Hayakawa
30 years walking across the Pacific Ocean. I will look at the island and the sea from the perspectives of international politics, development, and ocean law.
Heart of Darkness of Island Society
The murder of Ms Rachelle Bergeron has occupied my mind since the 15th October when the news showed up on SNS. In my 30 years experience of working in the Pacific Islands, I have always felt this kind of fear in island societies. The fear is at the heart of darkness in small societies. It is something that is hardly published in the local public media but it is something that communicated to foreigners like me are outside that society.
I have been quite aware of corruption and crime which is basically managed by leaders of Pacific Island Countries. I learnt a lot, especially since 2008 when I launched the maritime security project in Micronesia.
Protect Palauan kids from drug
Because of the Free Association many young American lawyers have been employed by local governments in Micronesian countries. I believe that they are of the same age as Ms Bergeron. I witnessed some young American Lawyers leaving the islands because of conflict with the employed government who basically want to protect local leaders who promoted human trafficking, drugs, money laundering and other crimes. If these lawyers choose to stay and stand to fight these crimes, they may be murdered as Ms Bergeron was. The same week of murder of Ms Bergeron, the car belonging to the head of the Narcotics Enforcement Agency was burnt in Palau.
His boat was also burned last year as well. A few years ago, I have been asked by the Hon Kuniwo Nakamura of Palau to protect kids from drugs. I had been asking myself – why did he ask me to do that? Because the criminals are Palauan. They could be one”s friends or relatives of Hon Nakamura? Over the last ten years, I and my friends, also our Emperor and Empress, and Dr Takasu have been supporting the organisation “Judo Kids” in Palau. I am not brave enough to stand against these crimes as Ms Bergeron has done, but I do take a different way. Yet for me her death is too high a price to pay.
Free association and Security for whom?
Since I have been observing the US attitude towards Micronesia since 1990 just after the end of the Cold War, I support for the current Trump administration’s re-commitment towards this region. I wish the murder of Ms Rachelle Bergeron may bring an awareness and a new perspectives for the US people and government. The Pacific Islands are not paradise or a safe place. The image of the Pacific Islands seen by many in developed countries is still the same as that portrayed in the 18th Century by Bougainville during his short visit to Tahiti.
Such an image never was. One of the causes that Ms Bergeron was fighting for was the human rights of children and women. In Yap 12 years girls were forced into prostitute. So I would like to ask why the US government arranged a Free Association with these countries? Yes it was negotiated during the Cold War. The Free Association was basically to protect the US security interests, not the interests of 12 year old girls of Yap.
Japan-US Cooperation for Micronesia
Human rights of children and women in Yap and Palau is not our i.e. Japan and US business? Most of human rights abuse may connect all kinds of crimes and which make society more corrupted and invite more crimes and shady business, such as Chinese investment for Resort & Casino project?
Ms Rachelle Bergeron told us that security and human rights of islands children and women are our business and our security. This should be another perspective of Free and Open Indo-Pacific strategy.
Rieko Hayakawa is working for the Pacific since 1988. Hayakawa holds a PhD from the University of Otago in New Zealand. Dr. Hayakawa has managed the Pacific Islands Fund of the Sasakawa Peace Foundation since 1991 to 2017, and made the USPNet as Japanese ODA project, launched the Micronesia Maritime Security Project and submitted many policies related to the Pacific such as Indo-Pacific strategy and maritime security towards Abe administration. She is currently researching the International Ocean Law at Doshisha University in Kyoto, Japan.