There is gold in Peru, black and metallic to be precise. Unfortunately, it is right in the middle of the Amazon forest and Peru is in the midst of a tsunami of resource "development". About 72% of the zone was allocated to oil alone. In about 10 years (if studies are correct) this zone will be totally devastated beyond recovery through deforestation. Bad right?
PROPERTY RIGHTS? WHAT PROPERTY RIGHTS?
It so happens that the majority of these lands are being claimed by native tribes that have lived in those areas for thousands of years. One such tribe is the Wampis. They had a preliminary agreement with the government to create a National Park to preserve the lands but the government suddenly decided to give half of that park to mining companies. Something similar (but worse) happen in the south where a communal reserve was created and protected against illegal mining and logging by law. In fact, so demanding were the laws that not even the native tribes could use the reserve. Yet today the reserve is almost entirely part of Oil Block 76 sold to the Hunt Oil Corporation. And this situation does not even consider all the other tribes in self-imposed isolation that inhabit the forest.
Here we have a classic example of a government overriding private property through laws and decrees. The issue at stake here is whose property is the Amazon forest? Obviously governments believe it is theirs, but is it so?
And so the main question hinges upon determining whose properties are those. Once this is determined, then the rest is trivial because it is up to the owner to decide what to do with them.
ERODING THE HOMESTEADING PRINCIPLE
One of the key principles of Libertarianism is the homesteading principle. We explained in detail how it works in our article "First Come First Served". Oversimplifying, the principle states that the first person (or group of people) who uses a property has acquired its property rights. The property is theirs to perpetuity and in absolute terms (unless they abandon or dispose of it).
This is, unless the government steps in, in which case nothing is certain any longer. Most governments on earth have determined that everything inside their borders is actually government property. This is so because allodial titles (i.e. ownership of real property that is independent of any superior landlord) have been almost entirely cancelled (see for example You Dont Own The Government The Government Owns You). Furthermore, even those properties that may have had a good chance to be owned through allodial titles (such as a house or the chair you are sitting on) can be taken away through "Eminent Domain" (you can also find our explanation of this topic in the above article).
All of this power is exercised by governments through so-called "legal" means (which does not mean that they are valid). However, governments are in-famous for using extra-judicial means to achieve their objectives (i.e. outside of the law). This does not mean that such means are illegal (i.e. against the law) although some may be. What this means is that governments change the laws as they suit them or they make use of loopholes that nobody is capable of policing for example in the form of Presidential "decrees". These decrees have the force of law although they have not been sanctioned by the parliamentary branch. Or, they may choose to go back on verbal agreements regarding treaties because possession may be is 9 tents of the law in a court, but it means nothing when you have an army of people wearing guns, badges and military equipment at your command.
The bottom line is that through these means governments do whatever it is that governments want to do for whatever reason that governments want to do so. This is the Peruvian case.
GOING BACK TO THE HOMESTEADING PRINCIPLE
The Peruvian problem has an obvious solution: let the homesteading principle reign. According to this principle, the tribes (sorry… "nations") would be able to claim any territory that they may have been actively using, but nothing more. In order to prove this, they may need to determine their foraging and hunting grounds, their habitational locations, their religious territories, sacred places, burial places, roads, rivers, mountains, transitory places and so on. Any and all territories that are actually in use or were in use but are not currently being ignored (i.e. abandoned) are theirs. We suspect that since these tribes were there for millennia, these territories would be quite vast. This accounts for all tribes, whether they are in contact with civilization or in self-isolation.
Whatever is left is fair game, not government's game.
What this means is that the remaining of the territory may be taken over by anyone, including mining and oil companies. We suspect that as the government is closer, they would take over. But in order to do so they would also have to abide by the same homesteading principle. Which means that they must actively use such territories, they can't just declare ownership and walk away which is what they do today. But there is yet another caveat. As the government is the "representation" of the Peruvian people, any and all properties that such government takes over are actually the property of Peruvian citizens. This property is not, repeat, not "government property" but citizen's property. All of the Peruvian citizens must receive an equal share of the homesteaded territory and are thus free to do as they please with said share. They must not be subjected to government decisions in any shape or form.
Under those circumstances all we need to do then is to ask the current owners of the property what it is that they want to do with it.
UNDER THOSE CONDITIONS
Once the owners of the property make the decision, then there is nothing more to discuss. But here is where the "ecologists" object. They will say that the forest is some sort of "World Patrimony" (i.e. something inherited by all the peoples of the world from earth itself) and as such it must be protected. This is, of course, patently stupid because it is nonsensical and it does not work.
It is nonsensical because we, the citizens of the world do not have shares to this "Patrimony" and as such we don't actually own anything. It does not work because every time there is some sort of "Protected Area" governments do whatever they want with it. With few exceptions, governments do a very lousy job as stewards, and what the Peruvian government did proves our point. The bigger the "reserve" the less "ecological" governments are simply because there is less visibility and more money in so behaving.
Are we then doomed to die in an ecological disaster of epical proportions as we "rape", "plunder" and "destroy" mother earth? Not at all. It so happens that once we own real property, "real" as in not subjected to government's political goals, then we suddenly become much more cautious because it is "real" wealth we are dealing with, with "real" consequences in our lives (see for example Ecology Through Self-Interest).
But this is all theoretical, right? Well… no. As we type and you read, Peruvian natives are divided as to what to do. Some are for development because it will bring jobs and money while others believe their way of life is at risk. If they would actually own the property it is clear that some sort of compromise would be reached. However, as they do not own the property it is exceedingly likely that there will be wholesale deforestation and destruction. We must keep in mind that this is only possible due to the actions of the great enabler: the government.
As with almost every situation on this planet we can see the wisdom of people and the lunacy of governments. And the solution is always the same: get the governments out of the picture and the problems solve themselves. Keep them in the picture and things get worse as problems are never solved.
Unless you believe in the stewardship of governments over our ecology. Those very same governments that allow systematic deforestation and destruction of "protected" areas and "national reserves" under the guise of "fair development" while syphoning out the proceeds to retain their jobs and privileges. You are referring to those governments, are you not? Just checking….
PS.: the photo accompanying this article is not from Peru but from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. It is simply a visual aid to highlight what will happen to the Peruvian rainforest.
Note: please see the Glossary if you are unfamiliar with certain words.