In 1967 chief Paul Buluk, frustrated by the intransigence of British and French officials in the New Hebrides, sent a petition to the British High Commissioner and to the United Nations. The land question on the island of Santo—the largest and most economically-important of the 83 islands that composed the ... (Show more)
In 1967 chief Paul Buluk, frustrated by the intransigence of British and French officials in the New Hebrides, sent a petition to the British High Commissioner and to the United Nations. The land question on the island of Santo—the largest and most economically-important of the 83 islands that composed the New Hebridean archipelago—could no longer be deferred. Continued encroachment by French colons into the ‘dark bush’ and repeated refusal by colonial officials to address illegal land occupations and theft compelled Buluk and his ally Jimmy Stephens to petition directly to the UN for relief and to invoke UN Resolution 1514. It is also compelled them to create a new organization, Nagriamel, to fight for the rights of Santo bush people.
Simultaneous with the activities of Buluk and Stephens, an ocean away, a contingent of wealthy, largely US-based libertarians pursued a very different form of self-determination: the creation of a new country governed entirely through contractual, capitalist relations. Inspired by the fictions of Ayn Rand and the myth of Robinson Crusoe, these individuals (including Nevada land developer Michael Oliver, philosophy professor John Hospers, Rand’s former acolyte and paramour Nathaniel Branden, and international finance guru Harry Schultz) hoped to forge their own private archipelago. In an implicit perversion of Resolution 1514, they sought individual self-determination in the very places undergoing decolonization struggles, believing that in such locales there would be, as Oliver wrote, “little problem in purchasing the land, or in having the opportunity to conduct affairs on a free enterprise basis from the very beginning.”
That turned out to be an optimistic assessment. An effort to build an island in the southwest Pacific encountered fierce resistance from nearby island communities who saw the ocean and its atolls and seamounts as part of their historical and territorial rights. Efforts to colonize an island--first on Abaco in the Bahamas and then subsequently on Santo in the New Hebrides--were similarly complicated, not least of all by concerted local resistance. And yet, both in the Bahamas and the New Hebrides, libertarian colonizers also found local allies. On Santo, for example, Nagriamel allied itself with Oliver and against another anticolonial movement, the Vanua’aku Pati [VP], which formed in the early 1970s and drew inspiration from the examples of Ghana, Tanzania and the Black Power movement. With Oliver’s financial and logistical support, Nagriamel launched a failed rebellion to secede from the new state of Vanuatu in 1980.
Why and how did anti-colonial movements ally themselves with a group of hyper-capitalist investors and speculators? What understandings of self-determination drove such alliances? What do they tell us about understandings of self-determination and sovereignty in the high era of decolonization in Africa, Asia, the Caribbean and Oceania? It was more than just coincidence that market libertarians based in the US, Australia, and the UK, sought to create new, private countries in the Caribbean and southwest Pacific during those regions’ most intense periods of anti-colonial agitation—so how did these adventure capitalists shape processes of decolonization and how, in turn, did anti-colonial movements use these financiers and interlopers to their own ends? (Show less)