Few figures have contributed more to the debate about corporate globalization
than Jose Bove, the French farmer whose dismantling of a McDonald's restaurant
that was under construction near his sheep farm was something of a "shot-heard-round-the-world"
in the struggle against the homogenization of food, culture and lifestyles.
While his assault on the local manifestation of the restaurant chain that has
come to symbolize the one-size-fits-all character of globalization was a blunt
act, Bove is known in France and abroad as a thoughtful theorist and strategist
whose critique of the World Trade Organization's pro-corporate agenda has done
much to alert activists around the world to the threats posed to workers, farmers,
communities and democracy by WTO moves that allow multinational firms to disregard
the laws and traditions of countries in which they operate.
But Bove, who has been a frequent visitor to the United States since he played
an important part in the 1999 anti-WTO demonstrations in Seattle, is no longer
welcome in George W. Bush's America.
When he arrived Wednesday at New York's JFK Airport on a trip that was supposed
to take him to Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations
for events sponsored by Cornell's Global Labor Institute, Bove was stopped by
U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents who told him he was suddenly "ineligible"
to enter the U.S. Before the night was done, Bove was hustled onto an Air France
flight that returned him to his homeland.
Why can't Bove, one of the most influential political activists on
the planet, speak in the U.S.?
According to Bove, the agents told him he was being denied entry because
of his past prosecutions for "moral crimes."
The French activist's "crimes" may have been motivated by a deep
sense of morality. But they were, more precisely, political acts, usually involving
nonviolent civil disobedience or symbolic gestures meant to raise the awareness
of the French regarding globalization -- most notably the 1999 dismantling of
the restaurant McDonald's was developing in Millau, a community in southern
France that is not far from the cooperative farm where Bove has lived and worked
And Bove's political views are not in synch with those of a president who used
his recent State of the Union address to talk up his commitment to globalization
with a corporate face.
Bove does not for a second believe that the U.S. officials who blocked his
entry were concerned about morality, or particular "crimes." Rather,
he suggested to reporters on Wednesday evening, the militantly pro-free trade
Bush administration has found a new avenue to constrain the debate about its
"I think this administration is crazy," Bove explained. "They
don't want any discussion that can affect all the things going on with globalization.
They don't want people coming from outside to discuss it."
Coming at a time when the Bush administration faces scrutiny for warrantless
wiretapping and other assaults on basic liberties, when new evidence of domestic
spying on dissidents surfaceson a regular basis, and when we just witnessed
the removal of anti-war activist Cindy Sheehan from the Capitol before the president
delivered his State of the Union address, that's hardly an unreasonable claim.
Certainly, it is a matter that merits a Congressional inquiry -- not
just into this incident but into the whole question of whether customs and border
operations have, like so many other functions of the federal government, been
abused for political purposes by an administration that is far more committed
to advancing the agenda of its corporate contributors that it is to respecting
the rule of law.