Free José Bové!

photo: bistro cave la bourgogne

This café is across the street from the marché
on Mouffetard.

The Dubious Food War Prisioner

Paris:- Sunday, 5. September 1999:- Big subjects in the papers are the garbage strike in Marseille, the general return to classes after the summer holidays, and the imprisonment of peasant leader José Bové.

By the end of the week garbagemen were back picking up some 4000 tons of garbage that had collected in Marseille since 17. August. The usual angst by all concerned with the return to school will be more or less resolved this coming Monday and Tuesday.

But José Bové is still in jail.

At 47, José Bové is a shepherd, a sheepherder; up on a high plateau in central France when he is not demolishing a McDonald's under construction in Millau - which has landed him in jail.

José Bové founded the Peasant's Confederation in 1987. This is a rural movement, supposedly somewherephoto: pattou cartoons, pont bir-hakeim in the political spectrum between the communists and the ecologists - although I have not be aware of many communist farmers. Maybe he has just borrowed some ideas.

Pattou's posters hanging from the Pont de Bir-Hakeim.

After battles with just about everybody since 1972, José Bové is now concentrating on one central issue: the genetic manipulation of foodstuffs - which has recently led to an increased US tax levy against some luxury French products, some of which are also produced by peasants.

In 1998, José Bové got an eight-month suspended sentence for assisting with the destruction of silos containing genetically manipulated corn. Last June, he was involved with the destruction of greenhouses where genetically manipulated rice was being grown.

José Bové has taken on the USA and the WTO, and his followers in France have been taking action all over the place - dumping produce here, raiding hypermarchés there - to the extent that the US is rumored to be willing to restart talks about its insistence of exporting beef full of hormones.

Meanwhile, at a court in Montpellier, the US-based fastfood chain McDonald's decided not to take civil action against Mr. Bové for their loses, while a thousand peasants and other unionists demonstrated outside the courthouse.

What it is all about is public health. You are what you eat, and for some years now what you eat in Europe has been found to be dubious. With people still dying from forms of 'Mad-Cow Disease,' nobody is especially anxious to start eating beef full of hormones - even if approved by the US Dept. of Health.

Where McDonald's and the WTO come into the issue is in the area of 'globalization.' Globalization as seen in France and in Europe, is beingphoto: music, quai montebello forced to eat US beef treated with hormones, and McDonald's is seen at the retail tip of this iceberg. (McDonald's in Europe generally has local supply sources; it is its symbol as a worldwide chain that was under attack.)

Entertainment at 'Les Fêtes de la Seine' floating market.

José Bové's lawyers readily admit that his actions has gone somewhat beyond those of traditional union activities, and it is exactly for this reason that the Montpellier court decided on Tuesday to keep him in detention.

Four of José Bové's co-unionists have been liberated after putting up bail amounting to 420,000 francs. With more and bigger demonstrations being planned, rumors on Wednesday suggested that a form of appeasement might be attempted.

Finally on Thursday the court decided to set José Bové's bail at 105,000 francs. José Bové had already said that the liberty of unions couldn't be bought, and refused to pay the high bail. This sum was identical to the bail set and paid by his four associates two weeks earlier, on the same charges as Mr. Bové.

Less than two hours after the court's decision, peasant activists 'borrowed' some tables from a McDonald's in Rennes and placed them in front a courthouse, as 'bail.'

Meanwhile, in Canada, President Jacques Chirac wasphoto: lady liberte lights up, 05.09.99 quoted as expressing understanding for concern about the safety of the food chain while evoking the ongoing quarrel between the US and France over the issue.

On Friday, France's politicians started sensing the popular ground-swell of support for José Bové's refusal to post bail. Other unions spoke up too, most notably Sud-Rail and the CFDT sections involved with food transport.

Paris' 'Miss Liberté' lights at at 22:45 Sunday night.

French justice has been in a bit of a bind since McDonald's declined its civil complaint. The 'bail' is not a fine, but a 'caution' - meant to assure José Bové's appearance at his trial.

Instead of demanding bail, the court can just as easily 'lift its hand' and place the defendant at liberty. In any case, the peasants and other unions have already collected more than enough to post bail some days ago.

In the face-off between the court and José Bové, it is now expected that the court will blink first.

If you are thinking all of this is just some mildly eccentric French peasants having a bit of a dust-up with the law, you can forget it. The French peasants union is planning an active participation at the coming WTO summit meeting in Seattle.

Whether José Bové is still in prison or back tending to his flock of sheep, he will be in Seattle in spirit.

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