Thursday, July 04, 2013

Anger rises over the Dapu fiasco

The inability of the Ma administration to connect with the victims of ‘modernization’ projects boggles the mind

As Friday’s “deadline” approached for the demolition of four families’ homes in Dapu (大埔) in Miaoli County’s Jhunan Township (竹南), to make way for — hear this — roads around a planned science park, I headed for the Executive Yuan in Taipei to observe yet another round of protests by the home owners, farmers, and their supporters, who hours earlier had been forcefully removed from the area ahead of a regular meeting inside the EY.

Police await at the EY
I got off at Shandao Temple MRT at the National Police Administration exit, and headed for the EY nearby. From the number of police officers I encountered on my way there, it was evident that the powers that be were expecting trouble — and a much larger crowd than the one that I had spent time with the previous day.

No wonder. The anger over the injustice at Dapu has been rising, and people are growing sick and tired of being lied to by local county heads and some of the most senior of government officials in Taipei. Not only had then-premier Wu Den-yih (吳敦義) broken his promise, made in 2010, to halt the demolitions, but the now vice president has distanced himself from such expectations in recent days, saying he had never made such a vow. To add insult to injury, he now claims that his intervention had been for the sake of facilitating negotiations, which had succeeded in convincing 20 of the 24 households to agree to have their houses demolished. Earlier this week, he compared this achievement to an exam, saying that anyone who obtained a 98 percent grade should be happy — as if those 2 percent were not human beings, but mere marks on a paper. What he also not mentioned is the fact that the 20 households that finally did agree to be evicted did so under duress and very likely were compelled to pick the least bad of the options given them (some had agreed even before compensation was offered, and were understandably miffed when they realized that others were being offered a bit of money). Even for those who did get financial compensation, the amount offered per household — about NT$900,000, or US$32,000 — is insufficient to help them acquire new land (the government has offered to sell them some plots) and build a new house. In most cases, the relocation will leave them by as much as $3 million in the red.

One resident, 72-year-old Chu Feng Min (朱馮敏), committed suicide to protest the land seizures back in 2010.

Meanwhile, appeals to Premier Jiang Yi-huah (江宜樺) to intervene in the case have fallen on deaf ears, and Jiang has said that the decision whether to proceed with the demolitions rests with Miaoli County Commissioner Liu Cheng-hung (劉政鴻), whose ethics and sense of justice can only be likened to those of a Chicago gangster. Jiang, who before becoming premier had been a professor at National Taiwan University and had studied the political thoughts of no less a figure than the German-American political theorist Hannah Arendt, seems to have lost sight of his alleged liberal views, something that isn’t unusual for individuals who enter government.

Peng Hsiu-chun, left, with her ailing husband
The press conferences this morning were tearful affairs, especially when Chang Sen-wen (張森文), a resident of Dapu, was brought in a wheelchair, unconscious, while Peng Hsiu-chun (彭秀春), his wife, sobbed at his side. If things keep going like this, it is very likely Chang won’t last much longer. Their house, which originally measured 11 ping (36.3 square meters), is now only 6 after it was nearly cut in half to make way for a road that was being widened. There were many tears among the protesters and press corps, which had turned up en masse, while the residents and their supporters took turns to appeal yet again for government intervention at the eleventh hour.

Melee on the EY grounds
Once the press conference was finished, some silent code was given and immediately dozens of protesters stormed the wall and, with the use of blankets and other means, rolled over it and over some small trees on the other side, then over barbed wire, where they were met by several dozens of police officers. A few were injured in the process (mostly cuts, or having the wind knocked out of them). At some point, two cops were struggling to drag away a young female protester who had wrapped her legs around a tree. A second group of protesters, meanwhile, clashed with police in front of the main gate, amid shouts of anger directed at Liu, Jiang, and others. From my vantage point atop the fence, I could sense a powerful wave of anger coursing like electricity among the protesters. It was something that one could almost reach out and touch. It took a lot of self-control for me not to join those who screamed their indignation, who cannot believe that this is happening in Taiwan today.

Then things calmed down, and the clashes ended. The dozens of activists who had managed to cross over to the EY lawn were let go, and one final press conference was held before the crowd started dispersing.

Protesters on the EY side
Soon afterwards, the Presidential Office announced that Wu had ordered Liu to “suspend” or delay tomorrow’s demolitions, which for those among us who have observed Wu for a while, was nothing more than politics of illusion, deceit to give the appearance of government intervention when in fact the demolitions were not planned for Friday, but could take place at any moment’s notice from that Friday on. In other words, Wu did nothing, and only made it possible for Liu to wear the protesters out (many of them will head for Dapu on Friday morning) and carry out the demolitions when nobody’s looking. 

There have been so many such instances in the past year that it is difficult not to feel powerless. One has every reason to be uplifted by the mobilization of people — students, professors and civil society — in support of the weak against the predations of the state, but the unresponsiveness of this government, the seeming inability to connect with the victims as humans to humans, is deplorable. In my home country of Canada, crooks like Liu would be behind bars (as seen recently in Toronto and Montreal); here, not only do they get away with it, but even the central government, “liberals” like Jiang, assist them in their activities by looking the other way. 

Something will have to give. Let us hope there’s a special place in hell for the people behind this type of behavior. (All pictures by the author)

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