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 for decades.
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 policies.
"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.
John Nichols, The Nation's Washington correspondent, has covered progressive politics and activism in the United States and abroad for more than a decade. Formerly a writer and editor for The Toledo Blade and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette newspapers, he is now editorial page editor for The Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin.
© 2006 The Nation