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ORIGINAL FRENCH ARTICLE: Bataille anticoloniale en Languedoc-Roussillon

by Françoise Germain-Robin

Anticolonial battle wages in Languedoc-Roussillon

Translated Sunday 26 July 2009, by Kristina Wischenkamper and reviewed by Bill Scoble

Since May a people’s coalition has been fighting against the installation of the Israeli firm Agrexco in Sète

Agrexco, a firm specialising in the export of fruit, vegetables and flowers, is 50% owned by the State of Israel. The problem is that 70% of the produce exported by Agrexco comes from the Jordan Valley which Israel occupies, having dispossessed Palestinian farmers of 95% of their land and 98% of their water resources. On 25 June the coalition against Agrexco, which brings together some 80 associations, groups and unions, organised a march from Nîmes and a demonstration of more than 1,000 people at Montpellier. And the movement is set to continue to combat what seems to have been a stealth pro-Israeli operation by the Languedoc-Roussillon regional president, ex-socialist Georges Frêcht. It is not his first act of provocation.

"In fact," explains Robert Kissous, representative of the AFPS [Association France-Palestine Solidarité] in Languedoc-Roussillon, "we were alerted to this by an interview he gave on 5 May in Midi libre where he announced that the region had agreed to an investment of 200 million euros to allow Agrexco to make use of a refrigerated terminal in the port of Sète which would become the gateway of Israeli produce to all Europe. The investment was unanimously voted by the Regional Council on 23 February, the counsellors being unaware of the exact nature of the transaction and having been tantalised by the promise of the creation of 200 new jobs between now and 2014."

"The precise nature of the imported produce wasn’t made clear to the committee," confirms François Libertim, vice-president of the Hérault Regional Council and ex deputy mayor of Sète, who subsequently signed a declaration made by all the region’s elected communist representatives. "In it they refuse to support the entry of illegal products coming from a colonised region, the importation of which, moreover, is prohibited by the EU".

An argument endorsed by the Farmers’ Confederation, [Confederation paysanne] is heavily implicated in the fight against Agrexco. "Not only are we talking about produce coming from occupied territory, which ethically is Unacceptable, but also the installing of Agrexco at Sète will allow mass importation of produce that will only quicken the disappearance of farmers in a region that is already devastated. The region has the second highest unemployment rate in France! There are thousands of hectares of land available since the grubbing-up of the vines [Read also: ‘Grubbing-up of vines questioned’] and fruit farming is in decline. Moreover there’s the problem of the traceability of what we eat, which is becoming an issue for more and more people. And that’s not to mention the problem of using public money to help Israel compete unfairly against local Languedoc farmers."

Lots of reasons to make one think, but that’s exactly what Georges Frêche refuses to do. He has already fixed a date for Agrexco’s arrival in Sète – October 2010 – and he won’t budge on it. "What is shocking," according to Robert Kissous "is his open contempt towards the concerns of the people, who are very sensitive to the ethical problems that we have brought to light, especially after the war against Gaza."

It is true that in response to a letter detailing the arguments brought forward by AFPS, the president of the Regional Council had just three things to say: "My job is the economy, not politics ... And I don’t have to answer to you." A tad brief given the size of the problem. And that’s what the coalition against Agrexco – which is planning another demonstration for October – intends to show.

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