One Small Step

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Review of Limon Real – A Free and Autonomous Region
by Dr. Rigoberto Stewart
LIL, 255pp, San Jose, Costa Rica, 1999

New Generation: The first generation of New Libertarians is dead.

Rothbard, Hess, pioneer activists such as Loeffler and many others
speak no more. The second generation is preparing to write its memoirs,
having expanded from a few living rooms to a presence in over 100
countries; and in the US, a fierce battle for recognition in all
50 States paid for by shoe leather, false arrests, defamation and
blood. The Boston Globe accused Libertarians of causing Y2K;
a best selling-book calls Libertarian cyber-geeks; an article in
Salon viciously claimed to see not a single non-white, non-male,
non-establishment face at the recent US convention. Indeed, as I
write these words, a Libertarian candidate in Tampa, who scared
the wits out of the establishment when he got some 20% of the vote
in a major election, saw his businesses raided this morning on trumped
up charges. This, a few weeks after declaring he is ready to campaign

Now the third and fourth waves are coming to maturity, putting into
organization what was overlooked, discussing Libertarian self-management,
tying together the purist, pragmatist and inclusive, taking a fresh
look at its principles and revisiting dormant ideas. And in countries
such as Costa Rica, a new militant first Libertarian generation
has arisen. It has learned from American and Canadian errors, put
itself forth in textbook style, and upset the government by not
only electing four Libertarians, but a fifth as Senator. The dynamic
young Senator, Otto Guevara Guth, has become a growing cult figure
in Central America as he answers startled constituents and reporters
on the first rings of his cell phone, and explains privatization
for the People patiently to curious grannies. Simultaneously, the
Costa Ricans have set up a think tank and encouraged an independent
movement, all while carefully reformulating Libertarian principles
to local history. And the Latin Libertarian voice, long dormant,
is speaking with awakening verve and clarity, and a clear, ironic
passion. Indeed, over 10% of the new US Libertarian National Committee
is proudly Latin – and American.

Zones of Stability

the late ’70’s I was among the first to point out, first in local
talks and then at a talk hosted by the old Center
for Libertarian Studies
, that Libertarians had two neglected
options. First, to win they needed only to be a militant plurality
– not a majority as commonly discussed – since only this
was needed to have sufficient veto power to grind all government
to a halt. Seeking to become a leading and militant minority was
a very different and more imaginable goal. Second, for this to be
acceptable to the public, a period of confidence building was likely.
We should think of not only demonstrating Libertarian solutions
in public office – which nearly 300 Libertarians are patiently
doing in the US today alone – but consider Libertarian Cultural
Zones. Many Libertarians – who were discussing free-enterprise
areas in ghettoes and better protection for intentional communities
– naturally found my ideas very agreeable. A bootleg tape of
my talks was admired among new country enthusiasts and Libertarian
space colony fans. But I was proposing something more fundamental.
Building on the Old Spanish Libertarian idea of a free commune or
autonomous protected zone, which has ample precedent in Latin common
law, I was proposing Libertarian Areas as confidence-building zones
of social stability in our decadent society. I proposed them
as areas where Libertarians could develop the critical social and
cultural skills and knowledges that could make such our ideas effective
and comprehensible. It is one thing to praise the Libertarian virtues
of private arbitration in the real world, another to develop real
world skill to actually arbitrate as virtuous Libertarians. I summarized
these ideas by saying we must begin thinking of the separation,
not just of Business and State, but of Government and State. Such
areas could be built from, or incubate, effective Libertarian counter
institutions. Like many concepts from those days, it was discussed
and transmuted into several forms, part of the Libertarian bank
of ideas, waiting for re-discovery, and its moment.

Small Step

the irrepressible Economist Dr. Rigoberto Stewart, ex-World Bank
wizard, co-editor of the Latin Libertarian collection Ensayos
and co-founder of the Costa Rican Movimiento
Libertario, has reformulated these free-form ideas, added his own,
and presented an amazing plan and now much-discussed for not just
a Libertarian Cultural Area, but an entire Libertarian Autonomous
Province. His book Limon Real – A Free and Autonomous
Region, released in both Spanish and English, translated by
none other than legendary private community educator Spencer Heath
MacCallum, tells how it can be done in the province of that very
name. Dr. Stewart gives not only a detailed plan while introducing
the reader in a natural tone to Libertarian voluntary structures,
but one that is already enjoying support in the province itself.
The book is so well written, putting into words and figures this
Libertarian concept, that it is a starting point for any Libertarian
and Libertarian in public office who wishes to develop the subject
in his own government and locality. And wisely, Dr. Stewart presents
several Libertarian possibilities, including at the end a “Freeport
Compact” by amateur anthropologist Michael van Notten, which serves
to show the flexibility of Libertarian thinking for the person new
to the concept.

in Dr. Stewart’s hands, the ideas seem very new, precisely because
he is a respected expert in Central America looking at a very specific
case. Indeed, it is difficult to imagine a more classic case. Limon
Real is no patch of desert or coral island for New Country enthusiasts.
It is arguably the most multicultural, variegated, naturally resource
wealthy province of Costa Rica. Dr. Stewart, an African-American
– African-Latin American – writes with almost poetic
feeling for this remarkable corner of the world. It has a long history
of resistance to central government, and even legal precedents as
a semi-autonomous region, from an Indian society with features praised
by Libertarian anthropologists as pre-cursors of what they are talking
about. Yet the province, basking in the Atlantic beaches, a likely
spot for that last refuge of idea-starved developers, tourism, is
poor. Why? Are the people stupid? Are they lazy and disorganized?
One may live modestly, but it takes something extra to actually
feel and look poor in a tropical paradise, after all. Was it a hurricane?
No, worse, says Dr. Stewart. The people suffer from one problem.
Government. Worse: government that is alienated, coercive, and conceitedly
distant, which considering that Costa Rica is geographically small,
also takes something extra. Dr. Stewart gives an emblematic example:
the government increased power in the province, seized the railroad
promising miracles, and then shut it down.

Stewart explains his Libertarian vision in five lucid parts. First,
he takes us in a concise and informative tour of Limon Real. It
what is a model of balanced, pleasure to read explanation, he tells
us what it is, its history, and the genesis of the present government
created mess. In the next two parts, he explains by specific examples
what a Libertarian society can do and what semi-Libertarian precedents
exist in different countries, and then relates the concepts to Costa
Rican realities. Aren’t government police needed? Costa Ricans are
seeing a growing crime wave so that the innocent have barricaded
themselves in the “virtual jails” of their own homes, Dr. Stewart
replies. How will the poor pay – won’t they depend on charity?
Don’t kid yourself, says Dr. Stewart, the poor are paying silently
more than they ever would – through hidden taxes, crushing
regulations, and loss of dignity. Briefly but innovatively, he also
addresses the psychological and social solidarity components of
Libertarian social processes of change, a concept that US Libertarians
are just beginning to outline.

With a Latin Twist

the last two parts he acquaints the reader with models of statutes
and procedures. He shows how in a few simple expansions of principle
Libertarian concepts accomplish the good that three million page
government statute books promise but do not deliver, and without
the evils of government that exempts itself from responsibility
for those laws. He goes into some very specific procedures that
would allow all this to happen under Costa Rican law. One caution:
areas that may seem odd to English speaking Libertarians, such as
the discussion of citizenship, reflect broader Latin conceptions
of inalienable nationality that are different from Anglo-Germanic
common law, and in my view offer solutions to conundrums that puzzle
Anglophile Libertarians or are viewed as fantasies here. After all,
total drug and prescription legalization and decontrol, or private
police forces that work for tips are not only demonstrated, but
also they are not uncommon in Latin countries historically.

also questions the Lockean and contractarian notion, that rights
can be delegated or lost even by criminal activity. For years I
have been startling Libertarians by saying that that is indeed a
Libertarian implication – but Latin Philosophers formulated the concept
of inalienable rights to bring Imperial abuses to heel in the 1500’s.
Inalienable means, madre mia, inalienable, and they sure
aren’t giving up now. In this spirit Dr. Stewart shows no interest
in alienating a single one. English readers may chuckle at his description
that a Public Defender actually trying to defend citizen’s rights
” is more lost than a reggae singer at a Ku Klux Klan rally,” until
they realize that Costa Ricans are still doing better than the mess
up North.

Indeed, aside from its interesting references, a real hidden plus,
especially on re-reading, in this book for English-speaking Libertarians
is to re-discover the Libertarian program with many new insights
from an admired thinker who has put the principles to work in a
subtly different Libertarian context. More: the last parts of the
book read like an action item list, and there can be no doubt that
the Costa Rican Libertarians do not plan to sit around. They are
already going out there talking to their neighbors of why Limon
should be an emporium of freedom, and Latin pussycats can, by setting
aside even the poorest region of their countries, be Libertarian
development Tigers while preserving local cultures and astounding
the world. Stop slandering Libertarians and give them a fair shot,
says Dr. Stewart, and this intriguing afternoon’s reading is a leap
in making that happen. For Libertarians in every country needn’t
wait for Costa Rica to save civilization, but can follow Dr. Stewart’s
practical vision into their countries, too.

and English texts slightly different, indicate which. To order at
$19.95, which includes S&H, e-mail
for instructions or contact LIO
at its website

Michael Gilson De Lemos, known as MG, is Coordinator of the Libertarian
International Organization
. He believes with Jefferson that,
along with Gibbon, Cicero and Tacitus should be read by all grade-schoolers.
In Latin.

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