This article was published in the Summer 1998 issue of Formulations
by the Free Nation Foundation
The REAL Limón Project
by Rigoberto Stewart

[A note from Rich Hammer: Before Rigoberto Stewart visited FNF earlier this year, I asked if he could email a document which would introduce his project. He sent the following. It is the text from which he spoke in Rome at the 1997 World Conference of the International Society for Individual Liberty (ISIL). It includes some chapters (in draft) of a book which he is preparing to promote the REAL Limón project.]

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_Chapter 1: Individual Rights
_Chapter 2: The National Government
_Chapter 3: The Government of the Autonomous Region
_Chapter 4: Protection of Individual Rights

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Ever since Ayn Rand and Atlas Shrugged there have been talks and attempts to form a libertarian paradise; a place where we could live as free individuals, according to the libertarian tenet, free of government, coercion, and the use of force. I understand that there have been many such projects, but none successful so far. Within ISIL we have heard and talked about Michael van Notten's effort in Somalia and Laissez Faire City, currently headquartered in Costa Rica, but functioning in cyberspace. There are others.

Today, I have the distinct pleasure of bringing to your attention yet another such effort, but with its own unique features: the REAL Limón project, where REAL stands for autonomous and free region, in Spanish. Let me start by providing you with some basic information about the country and the region.

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Costa Rica is a small potential tropical paradise, located in Central America, between Nicaragua and Panama, the Caribbean Sea (Atlantic) and the Pacific Ocean. It is located in the tropics, about 10° north of the equator, but because it is very mountainous, in the central region where most of the population lives, the temperatures are just right: between 68°F and 82°F all year round.

The country is only 51,100 km2 (19,730 sq.mi.), divided into seven provinces, and it harbors a population of about 3.4 million. The official language is Spanish, although many speak English, especially the black segment. The state's religion is Catholic (Can a state have religion?), but there are numerous and growing Protestants.

Costa Rica is still considered agricultural, although that sector provides only about 18% of GDP. The main exports are coffee, bananas, sugar, beef, and manufactures (maquilas). Tourism is high and growing. The inhabitants are relatively poor, with GDP per capita of about US$2,685 in 1996. The distribution is bad and worsening.

The political system is a two-party democracy, highly presidential, with alternation in power between what is known as the social-democrats and the social-Christians. It is a socialist society in which individuals rights are scorned. Despite relatively high ratings from Freedom House and the Heritage Foundation, economic freedom is limited. The government monopolizes crucial economic activities, import/export bans can occur at any time, inflation is high, and property rights are often violated.

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The region comprises the whole Province of Limón, which is one of the seven, and is located on the east side, along the Atlantic coast. It covers about 9,184 km2; and holds about 260,000 people, among which you find: mestizos, blacks in a much higher proportion than countrywide, Chinese, and native Indians.

The region is essentially low land, tropical rain-forest type, with over 180" of rain per year. It is hot and humid, rich in natural resources: forests, jungles, incredible fauna, beaches, canals, minerals, and even petroleum, it is suspected.

The main economic activities are: agriculture; bananas, cocoa, ornamental plants, beef; fisheries; forestry; tourism services; and some industry, like petrochemicals. It is the main port of the country.

Not all is rosy, however. The province is impoverished and riddled by unemployment, drugs, and other problems. Currently, it presents a very disheartening picture. The housing deficit and unemployment and sub-employment are very high. Household income is among the lowest in the country. A study determined that in July, 1995 the average monthly income of a household of 4.2 members was about US$100; which makes it difficult for the members to satisfy their basic nutritional needs. Health services are inadequate: 26% of the population are not covered by social security, and infant mortality is about 40% in Talamanca, the area inhabited by Bri-Bri Indians. Schooling is low: among the population age 10 and older, illiteracy is around 11%; 77% of the population of 12 years and older have a maximum achievement of grade school (6 years); 30% of the population of the Canton of Talamanca have received no instruction whatsoever. The communication system is deplorable: in 1988, only 9% of the road system was paved; 57% are dirt roads. The railroad, once the backbone of the transportation system and the economy of the province has been paralyzed since 1994. The infrastructure for tourism is wanting.

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Through a growing grass-roots movement, the project hopes to have the Limón people declare the whole province an autonomous and free region, governed by libertarian principles.


Why the Project? The project was conceived with three main objectives in mind. First to prove to Latin Americans that liberty is not only morally correct, but it also works. Bear in mind that the Latin American countries, in general, are statist, interventionist, antiliberal and, obviously, poor states, in which individual rights are violated on a daily basis. Economic freedom that leads to prosperity is hindered in many ways: high inflation; elevated trade barriers; government monopolies in the areas of telecommunication, insurance, oil imports, refining and distribution; forced payment for services that are not rendered; compulsory health care (managed by the Social Security Administration); compulsory savings (taken from one's paycheck by a "People's Bank"); selective consumption tax (e.g. automobiles, air conditioning); and a self-sufficiency policy.

Second, to provide a haven for libertarians or freedom seekers from all over the world. This project will not compete with all the other current efforts to develop a "Galt's Gulch;" it is complementary, since there will never be an excess supply of free areas. And thirdly, to develop the province and make available standards of living the Limónese could never have imagined—not even in their wildest dreams


Why Limón? The province of Limón was chosen for four reasons. First, it was chosen because of its poverty and abandonment. In this regard, the objective of the project is to show that you can apply libertarian principles to the worst of areas and turn it into something wonderful in no time. The power of liberty is unlimited. Also, because of the current situation, we anticipate less resistance from the central government, and from the Limónese who, presumably, have little to lose.

Second, it was chosen because of the characteristics of the population. More than a 100 years ago, the province was settled by immigrants from Jamaica who traveled at high perils in search of freedom and prosperity. A large part of the population is also made up by immigrants from Nicaragua, other Central American countries, and other parts of Costa Rica, who are essentially seeking better economic opportunities. Native Indians comprise the third-largest group. They have lived in the southernmost part of the province for thousands of years. For a long time they have been demanding their right to self-determination and the end of interference from the central government.

Third, it was chosen because of its potential. Limón is overwhelmingly rich; all it needs is some freedom, a different set of rules, a different incentive structure. It has all the ingredients necessary to become another Hong Kong or Singapore. Let us take a look. The city-state of Singapore, separated from peninsular Malaysia by a causeway, is a tropical island of only 622 km2 (less than 7% the size of Limón; Limón is 15 times larger). It is inhabited by 2.6 million people (10 times the population of Limón), of which 75% are of Chinese descent, 15% are Malays, and 6% are of Indo origin. Despite its lack of natural resources and its complete dependence on the international market, it has become a prosperous industrial economy, and its inhabitants have achieved standards of living that are the envy of many developing countries that are rich in natural resources.

Between 1960 and 1984, per capita income in Singapore grew at an average annual rate of 8.3%. It went from US$600 in 1950 (equivalent to that of Costa Rica) to US$17,700 in 1992 (about 8 times that of Costa Rica). It is projected that in the year 2000 its per capita income will be $25,500, about 20 times that of Limón.

What is the basis of this economic miracle, almost unprecedented in the tropics? Remember, we are talking about a tiny island devoid of natural resources, whose only asset is its strategic location. It all rests on the vision of Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew who, in 1965, designed a development strategy based on the free market. He stimulated a massive inflow of capital, know-how, management skills, engineers, and marketing specialists. This strategy (implemented precisely when Latin America was embracing protectionism and import substitution) generated employment and spectacular increments in the standards of living. Limón has great potential for tourism, agriculture, and forestry. It could also provide financial, telecommunication, transport (road and rail), port, and airport services.

The fourth reason for choosing Limón is its strategic location. It has 300 km of coastline and it is located in an area that makes conveyance by ship to or from the rest of the world very easy. It can provide port services not only to the rest of the country, but to Nicaragua and Panama as well. By air, it is only 2.5 hours away from Miami. It can serve as an alternate landing site for San José (Costa Rica' s capital city), Panama, and Nicaragua.

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According to the project, the region or province will continue to be a part of Costa Rica, but will be totally autonomous and governed by an utterly different set of rules. Following is a selection of the statutes contained in the Declaration of Autonomy. They cover four areas: individual rights, national government, local government, and the protection of individual rights.1

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Individual Rights


Article 1. The Province of Limón is a totally free zone dedicated to preserving, protecting, and encouraging freedom within its boundaries. Individual liberties are absolute and are limited only by the rights of other individuals.

Article 2. All Costa Ricans are citizens of Limón, but only those over 18 years of age residing in Limón can participate in any election.

Article 3. Every citizen has the right of peaceful and nonviolent assembly and of petition for any matter.

Article 4. Every citizen has the right, either alone or jointly with others, privately or in public, to practice and profess any religious or atheistic faith, dogma, or belief.

Article 5. Every citizen and domestic corporation has the right to express and disseminate information, opinions, and beliefs by word, writing, or picture; and to receive, gather, and have access to obtain information and ideas.

Article 6. Every citizen has the right to academic freedom and research and to engage in the arts.

Article 7. Every citizen is equal before the procedures and processes of the law.

Article 8. Every citizen has the right of residence and movement throughout the province and to the rest of the country and foreign countries.

Article 9. Every person and corporation has a right to secrecy in personal correspondence and communication, whether by post, telephone, telegraph, facsimile, electronic mail, or any other such facilities. Under no circumstance will this right be violated.

Article 10. Every individual and corporation has the right to purchase, acquire, rent, own, use, mortgage, sell, lease, transfer, bequeath, and inherit private property, or any part or portion thereof. Private property includes any asset or thing of value, whether tangible or intangible, real or personal. There will be no restriction of this right on the part of the local or national government.

Article 11. Every individual and domestic corporation has the right freely to practice the occupation, profession, or trade of choice, freely to establish and maintain a commercial enterprise, and freely to produce and distribute goods and services.

Article 12. Every individual and domestic corporation has the right to enter into binding agreements containing any and only provisions of their choice.

Article 13. Every individual has the right of free association and to join with others and form corporations, associations, unions, and any other organizations as long as the objective is peaceful and nonviolent.

Article 14. In addition to the rights enumerated in this Declaration of Autonomy, the courts shall have the power to determine and protect unenumerated rights, according to the principles which follow.

Article 15. (a) No government entity shall deprive any person of the rights herein enumerated or of other rights of life, liberty, and property not enumerated, except as a sanction for the violation of other individuals' rights. (b) The rights of "life, liberty, and property" comprehend only self-inspired or self-initiated actions and not liberties, rights, privileges, positions, immunities, entitlements, or subsidies created by the political process.

Article 16. All rights and freedoms provided herewith are guaranteed to foreign nationals and persons without citizenship residing within the territory of this region.

Article 17. The local government has no obligation to support, advance, or otherwise subsidize any private activities, even when the absence of funds may limit the enjoyment of protected rights.

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The National Government


Article 1. The autonomous region will be a part of Costa Rica, and Costa Rican laws will be applicable in the region so long as they do not violate the aforementioned individual rights.

Article 2. No national laws that create monopolies in education, mail service, health, insurance, port services and others, or that restrict the freedom of press, communication, religion, or association will be applicable in Limón.

Article 3. The national government can maintain representatives of its institutions and continue to operate them under a voluntary scheme, but cannot dictate policies in any matter. It can operate the existing national ports, but will not have jurisdiction over any other port that might be built. It can collect taxes on goods whose destination is the rest of the country, but not on the goods coming into Limón.

Article 4. It cannot levy taxes on any person or business residing or operating in Limón.

Article 5. Its officials will not enjoy any immunity while in the territory of Limón.

Article 6. Its representatives will have free access to and movement within the territory of Limón, as long as they do not violate individual rights as specified above.

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The Government of the Autonomous Region


Article 1. The autonomous region will be governed by a small regional or provincial body, whose maximum representative is the Governor. The Governor will be elected by the permanent residents of the region, for a six-year term. Any Costa Rican, of at least 40 years of age, who is a permanent resident of Limón for at least three years or was born in Limón is eligible for the post.

Article 2. (a) The most important function of the local government is to protect the life, liberty, and property of all persons or corporations in the region. (b) The government cannot violate any of the rights it is supposed to defend.

Article 3. The local government will not limit private activity in any way. It will not demand from any individual or corporation permits of any kind to operate; but it will have the power to intervene when someone' s right is being violated.

Article 4. The regional government cannot collect taxes of any kind. It will be financed through non-coercive means.

Article 5. The regional government cannot dictate any measure that goes counter to these statutes or violates individual rights.

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Protection of Individual Rights

Article 1. The police and judiciary system will be charged with the upholding and defense of individual liberties. The police corps must be well trained and educated for this delicate function.

Article 2. The local judiciary system will differ from the national system in various important respects: it will abide by these statutes; its employees will not receive a salary but payments for services rendered, and all trials will be by jury.

Article 3. There will be no victimless crimes. There must be a violation of someone's rights before any citizen is arrested and tried.

Article 4. When found guilty of a violation of someone's right, priority will be given to restitution of the victims over incarceration or other types of punishment. The victim will participate as actively as he or she wishes in the restitution process and even in the determination of punishment, within limits.

Article 5. No individual will be arrested or detained by the police or any other government representative in the absence of clear evidence that a crime was committed.

Article 6. The right of every individual to be safe in his or her own home and to have secure their belongings against entry, registration and confiscation will not be violated except when there is clear evidence that a crime was committed.

Article 7. Any individual who was detained, arrested, or incarcerated illegally should have the right to an indemnity for any lesion or loss suffered during the process. The perpetrator will be the main person redressing the victim.

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Traditionally these types of projects are negotiated with governments. This is what happened in the case of Hong Kong. It is the approach currently being followed in Somalia and by the fellows of Laissez Faire City. In Nicaragua, autonomy was granted through legislation, by the Sandinista Government, to two regions on the Atlantic coast. The case of Singapore was different. After a lot of intense skirmishes, the Singaporeans decided to separate themselves from Malaysia (without too much opposition), and later to implement a free market system.

The REAL Limón project will follow a bottom-up approach. That is, instead of negotiating with the Government of Costa Rica, which would take forever and have very little chance of success, we "sell" the idea, the project, to the Limón people. How do we do it? Very elaborately. We are designing a plan of action (and we can use help) which will include, but not be limited to, the dissemination of written material (project description, booklets, pamphlets), meetings with all types of organized groups (churches, clubs, unions), appearances on radio and television, including the project's own weekly television program; seminars and conferences (Walter Williams has agreed to speak), and workshops.

We have contemplated taking charge of a specific operating task in the province, like forming (within the project) a Road Authority, which would take the road system away from the central government and manage it. The same can be done with the railroad, which is now closed down.

Once the project is sold enough or embraced to a crucial point, the next step will be to inform the central government of the sovereign decision of the Limón people. The next and final step will be to open up the region for business. Invite investors for banking, railroads, ports, airports, telecommunication, and everything else.

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We would like to make the following invitations. First, to come and visit us in Costa Rica and specifically in the province of Limón, the site of this historical undertaking and of the 1999 ISIL convention. Second, we invite you to join in the project, to become a member. The project itself will be a legal, incorporated body, with board members and associates. Third, we invite you to make specific donations, now or in the future, to the project. The money received will be used to promote (sell) the project in Limón and abroad. The first task is to publish the document containing the project description. D

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 1 Many of these ideas come from Bernard H. Siegan, Drafting a Constitution for a Nation or Republic Emerging into Freedom. Faifax, Virginia: George Mason University Press, 1994.

Rigoberto Stewart, who comes originally from the Limón Province, has roots in North Carolina as well. In 1984 he received a Ph.D. in economics at N.C. State University in Raleigh. He is President and founder of Institute for Liberty and Public Policy (INLAP), in Alajuela, Costa Rica.

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