Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Resistance to land grab for Taoyuan Aerotropolis megaproject


Here is my latest article for Ecologist: Taiwan: residents resist forced eviction for 'Aerotropolis' megaproject. Communities in Taoyuan, on the northern tip of Taiwan, are resisting enforced land expropriation for an ‘aerotropolis’ around the airport. The planned airport-centric commercial and residential development, predominantly on prime quality farmland, would displace 46,000 people, many of whom do not wish to leave their homes. Here are some photos from a few of the endless protests against compulsory land purchase:

On a rainy day, 17th December 2013, a large group of protesters marched with banners on a 'Blood Paperplane Protest'. Many of them wore yellow, the colour symbolising democracy. They threw paper planes spattered with 'blood' at the heavy police presence.

Blood Paper Plane protest against Taoyuan Aerotropolis, 17th Dec 2013, Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

On 22nd June about 500 protesters marched to the Taoyuan government offices where they performed a repeated slow motion march walking a few paces then stopping to kneel and pray.

500 people marched against Taoyuan Aerotropolis on 22nd June 2014, Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

Two days later only a few representatives were admitted to a meeting about the Aerotropolis. Their requests for all affected people to be given a voice were denied and police dragged them out of the room.

Police remove protester from 24th June 2014 meeting, Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

On 17th July a group of residents, mostly women, facing eviction for the project, held a demonstration outside a meeting discussing the project, explaining that the compensation offered would be insufficient to buy a comparable house.

17th July 2014 protest against land expropriation, Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

Yet another women-led protest took place on 29th July.

29th July 2014 protest against land grab for Taoyuan Aerotropolis, Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

In November, protests against a land grab for Toayuan Aerotropolis took an artistic turn, as outlined in the previous post on this blog. The government supported the Taoyuan Land Art Festival, featuring grandiose installations such as the now famous ‘Moon Rabbit’ on a disused military base which form part of the planned Aerotropolis site.

Protesters at the Taoyuan Land Art Festival, Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

Protesters’ attempt to submit a petition at the opening event was denied and met with rough treatment by police; one woman was hospitalised. Residents facing the prospect of forced eviction and their supporters created an inspiring alternative, the Aerotropolis Land Art Festival, on some of the farmland earmarked for expropriation. Along with enjoying sculptures and other artworks, visitors could ‘strike back’ against the Aeotropolis demolition plans, by aiming wrecking balls at a model of the project, as shown in this video:

Demolishing a model of the aerotropolis at the art festival, video by Lee Sky

The art festival boosted the profile of the campaign and morale of affected residents just as battle lines are hardening in the lead up to the scheduled beginning of land expropriation for the Taoyuan Aerotropolis, in 2015. The government drives the project for corporate benefit as community resistance among the many people who do not wish to vacate their land, and their supporters, is strengthening. The Aerotropolis is the largest of the multitude of pending major land expropriations all over Taiwan, for development projects such as roads and industrial parks. Landowners often receive low levels of compensation, and the government effectively lines the pockets of construction firms, as, once the land is redesignated for commercial, industrial or residential development, its value rockets upwards.

A notorious case of flouting the democratic process occurred at the village of Dapu, in
Miaoli County in the northwest of Taiwan, as described in this article by J. Michael Cole. Four households held out against forced eviction, but police demolished their homes while their case was being discussed in court, including a pharmacy owned by Mr. Chang Sen-wen and his wife Peng Hsiu-chun. Most of their possessions were dumped in the mud in a nearby field.

Peng Hsiu-chun’s clothing and family photos retrieved from mud after her home in Dapu was demolished, Photo by Coulloud, Creative Commons License

Outrage over the Dapu demolition incident triggered land justice protests throughout Taiwan involving 10,000 people. Two months later Chang Sen-wen was discovered dead in a ditch, and it is unclear whether he committed suicide. A court ruling in favour of the Dapu residents, stating that the demolition was unlawful, was a sign of hope for land rights reform.

Land expropriation for Taoyuan Aerotropolis is scheduled to begin in 2015. Hopefully, the strength of local opposition, with support from land rights, democracy and aviation campaigners around the world, can stop this ecologically damaging and socially unjust project in its tracks.

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