Thursday, September 05, 2013

The latest eviction victims: Elderly fruit farmers on Lishan

Government authorities are once again resorting to might and lawsuits to kick vulnerable groups off their land, without providing any assistance to help them rebuild their lives

So it continues. After Dapu (大埔) and Huaguang (華光), another vulnerable group is facing evictions and fines for “illegally” living on, and profiting from, land that the government wants back. The victims this time are elderly fruit farmers in Lishan (梨山), Greater Taichung.

The story begins long ago, when the government sought to resettle a number of mainlander Kuomintang veteran soldiers who had been mobilized — for many at the cost of their lives — to build the Central Cross-Island Highway (中橫公路) during the 1950s. A number of them were moved to Lishan, at about 2,000m altitude, to begin a new life as fruit farmers. Through an arrangement with the Forestry Bureau, the residents leased the land they lived on, which needed to be renewed every nine years. Thus began their new lives, growing apples, peaches, and other high-altitude fruit.

This was their home for more than four, in some cases five, decades. Then, on the morning of Aug. 30, officials from the Dongshih Forest District Office, accompanied by police and workers, moved into the area of Rongxing Village (榮興) to begin tearing down fruit orchards, wooden shelters, and homes. As the executors did their work, 85-year-old Ma Yu-ru (馬玉如) fell to his knees and begged them to at least wait one more week so that he could pluck his fruit. His pleas were in vain. Ma, homeless, now leaves at another veteran’s house.

The case stems from approval by the Executive Yuan of the Techi Reservoir (德基水庫) flood-treatment project for the Dajia River area. The plan included a Council of Agriculture decree, formulated in April 2008, which involved cataloging agricultural land used on woodland slopes with a more than 28-degree angle as “overused” and therefore targeted for reforestation. Unfortunately for the farmers of Lishan, they happened to inhabit such land. The leases were voided, and the residents were ordered to leave. Those who refused then faced civil lawsuits for “illegally profiting” from the land, the same type of fine slapped on many of the residents of Huaguang, the majority of whom are also elderly “mainlanders.”

Feeling that he had failed to protect the members of the community, Ye Jin-zhu (葉進住), the head of the village tried to commit suicide with a Swiss knife on Friday, but police saved his life and rushed him to a medical clinic.

Here is yet another case in which the government implements land policies without any consideration for the impact on vulnerable communities. While nobody disputes the need for flood prevention (just as nobody objects to “development” and “modernity”), one wonders whether it was necessary to file lawsuits against elderly individuals with little means, who made not inconsiderable contributions to this country. They were offered no alternatives, no assistance to facilitate a move and to rebuild the little that is left of their lives — yet again — somewhere else.

Governments need not have signed the two U.N. covenants, which President Ma Ying-jeou (馬英九) has made a big show of, to be aware that one cannot deracinate the elderly and cast them to the winds, without some form of assistance, let alone add to their burden by suing them for refusing to cooperate. Surely there are more humane ways to deal with such occasions.

More demolitions and removals of fruit orchards are expected on Sept. 6. (Photo PNN)

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