Letter From Jeju Island

By Christine Ahn
Aug 5, 2011

Heroic Older Women Confront Korean Miltarism

By Christine Ahn

Dear friends,

The author with one of the haenyo - women deep sea divers.

I just returned from an intense trip to Korea where I visited Gangjeong village on Jeju Island where the villagers there are fighting to stop the construction of their naval base. Thank you to many of you who have signed the petition to President Lee urging him to stop the base. During a candlelight vigil, I told the villagers that nearly 3,000 people from 46 countries have signed the petition, and that Avaaz, the major online petition group with 10 million members has also circulated a petition.

On my way back from Korea, I pitched an oped to the New York Times/International Herald Tribune. This morning, they published my piece, which is a coup since this is the first major international coverage of their struggle in a top tier paper. The villagers and activists there are overjoyed with the piece and hopefully it will bring much more needed attention to their plight. Here's the opening:

SEOUL — Gangjeong, a small fishing and farming village on Jeju Island 50 miles south of the Korean peninsula, is a pristine Unesco-designated ecological reserve where elderly Korean women sea divers, haenyo, still forage for seafood. It is also the site of a fierce resistance movement by villagers who oppose the construction of a South Korean naval base on the island that will become part of the U.S. missile defense system to contain China.

Click here to read the whole piece.

While in Gangjeong, I interviewed villagers--farmers, fishermen, women sea divers, the village chief--and many others including a former national assembly member, women's groups, peace activists supporting the villagers, and Sung-hee Choi, the fearless woman who has been in prison since May. It was very disturbing to learn the deep levels of corruption--including the "vote" for the base by 87 people done by clapping, which was unprecedented.

Thanks to many of you who have signed the petition. If you haven't, you still can. Click here to sign.

Thanks for your solidarity,

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project

Christine Ahn is a writer and activist. She works at the Global Fund for Women by day and by moonlight on a range of peace and social justice issues. She's a co-founder of the Korea Policy Institute, a columnist with Foreign Policy In Focus at the Institute for Policy Studies, and a fellow with the Oakland Institute.

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