Wednesday, October 23, 2013

InfraVest’s thugs strike again

None of what happened this morning was unavoidable, if only the firm and the government agencies that have facilitated its operations had abided by democratic rules and treated the collateral to green energy with respect and humanity

Well, it was bound to happen. Early this morning, a male protester was smashed in the face with a stone by a private security officer during an altercation at the site of a wind turbine under construction. The resident of Yuanli, Miaoli County, whose cheekbones were crushed by the hit, was hospitalized and will require facial reconstruction. Another protester sustained a broken ankle.

I’d paid a personal visit to the site in early June following reports of earlier incidents. Sure enough, we were greeted at the site by a group of ruffians who not only followed us wherever we went, but also made it amply evident that our presence there was not wanted. A good number of them — hired from kung fu schools, one of them informed me, via a Taipei-based firm known as Hai Tian (海天保全) — were evidently high on a mix of nicotine and betel nut, and I thought to myself then that in the event of an altercation, such guards were bound to lose control and cause serious damage on the local youth and elderly farmers who have mobilized against the project. Already, we had seen photos and film of protesters being surrounded by thugs, dragged, and kicked while on the ground, with local police looking on. The thugs, who have no power of authority, also behaved as if they were law-enforcement officers and blocked protesters (and journalists) access to sites that are public property. This morning’s incident was but a logical continuation of the problem.

The residents of Yuanli argue that InfraVest, the German firm, and the government, have not treated them fairly. While the majority of them do not oppose wind power per se, they and their lawyers have made a strong case about the fact that the wind turbines are being erected far too close to their homes — much closer, in fact, than seen elsewhere worldwide. It’s also pretty clear that there have been serious procedural deficiencies in how the Bureau of Energy, the Ministry of Economic Affairs, and other agencies have handled the “public hearings” held to resolve the matter. Among other infractions, “experimental hearings” have, post facto, been made official, and on more than one instance, the residents were informed at the last minute about a hearing, or were prevented from attending. In one instance, police officers surrounded the room in which a hearing was being held and turned their camcorders on the residents, academics and activists whenever they spoke up or asked questions.

I’d long wanted to ask InfraVest whether they thought it was appropriate for the firm to hire thugs ensure security at the site. This morning’s incident provided the perfect justification for doing so. My conversation with one of the senior employees from the main office in Taipei was on background, and the firm will issue a press release on the incident later today (pasted below, which basically claims that the residents surrounded the equipment and refused to leave after being told to do so). I can nevertheless reproduce the gist of our exchange.

I first asked if they understood that the behavior of the private security firm was undermining the company’s reputation. The company source replied that the firm had no choice, as it cannot ask local police to provide such services. She nevertheless admitted that the series of incidents earlier this had given InfraVest a bad reputation and that they had subsequently ordered that the guards henceforth refrain from engaging in verbal or physical clashes with protesters. Since then, she said, there had been not reports of incidents. This morning’s clash, she added, had come as a surprise to them. The source said InfraVest had requested a formal report from the security firm, adding that while it was difficult for them to know exactly what had happened, some protesters had reportedly uttered “bad words” at the security guards.

When I shared with her my impressions of the guards, especially the fact that some of them showed all the symptoms of being high on betel nut — including the guard who this morning used a stone to smash the protester in the fact — the company source expressed surprise and thanked me for the information.

None of this was unavoidable, if only the firm and the government agencies that have facilitated its operations had abided by democratic rules and treated the collateral to green energy with respect and humanity. Instead, the parties harden, and individuals get hurt. Sometimes, as in next-door Dapu, the outcome isn’t crushed cheekbones, but rather lives lost. (Photos by the author).

InfraVest press release:







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