Yasuní – The State’s conquest of the rainforest

by Fabricio Terán, 08/19/2013

Recently, the Ecuadorian government decided to cancel the Yasuní ITT Initiative [1], but I’ve noticed several worthwile alternative propositions on social media. Some of them surprise me somewhat regarding the circumstances given, anti-capitalists supporting the rainforest’s removal, government allies in favour of the rainforest’s preservation, oppositional preservationists against the withdrawal of oil corporations, libertarians in favour of government oil industry in the Amazon. It’s interesting to see how quickly everyone changes their mind as soon as political leaders have laid out a different guideline, many of them even had a contrary opinion a few days before the cancelation of the initiative. I’ve noticed as well that the philosophical debate has shifted towards a confrontation between industrialism vs preservationism, which I will prove to be a false dilemma.

I will explain why the topic of Yasuní ITT (the territory, not the governmental initiative) shouldn’t be about industrialism vs preservationism for any champion of a free market society, and why the advocacy of free markets is so easily associated to industrialism. In this particular case, the advocacy of a slightly preservationist posture is even more preferable, irrespective of biodiversity or any apologetics of an “ecological economy”, blackmailing other governments for “not touching” the rainforest. [2]




One needs to consider the territorial division of the Amazon into oil blocks by the Ecuadorian government (the neighbouring governments are doing just the same), which are nothing more than arbitrary claims. Hoppe and Kinsella [3] explained us already that property rights arise from the most objective claim. In the case of the territory of the Yasuní National Park and the ITT zone we encounter two relevant property claims, not like the usual ones between governments, guerrillas and Western nationalism. The claims over Yasuní are declared by the Ecuadorian government’s oil blocks and the Huaorani, more specifically the Taromenane, an Ameroindian tribe residing in local rainforest, living in voluntary isolation (in which case it is a communal property claim). Accepting first occupation as the most objective form of property claim, the Huaorani and Taromenani are the rightful owners of the territory, invalidating the Ecuadorian government’s claim to assign oil blocks to a land that it does not own. The territory of the Taromenane, and other tribes living in voluntary isolation, have never been ruled over by any form of government, making the Ecuadorian government’s power over the Amazon rainforest just a geographical fiction. [4]

At this point, I need to clarify that not the whole of the Amazonian rainforest has been occupied by aboriginal tribes, which makes the peaceful colonization of unoccupied territory fully justifiable from a free market ethics perspective [5]. However, colonization of land that has been occupied prior to this is invasion, and therefore criminal, which is just the case with the oil blocks 31 and 16 of the Ecuadorian government. Since the 1960s the Amazon has seen a systematic conquest carried out by the legal person Ecuador, a conquest that found idelogocial support by the citizens’ nationalism, fooled by the belief that the geographical fiction Ecuador has always controled “its” Amazon. This conquest has been backed by the silent complicity of an international community of “recognized governments” acting as a cartel, which has marked the lines in which each of them could loot “peacefully”. [6]


Nevertheless, we need to acknowledge the benevolent intentions to protect these tribes with the declaration of national parks, protected zones and treaties with some Amazonian tribes. Despite these intentions, the supporters of the declaration upheld the same statist logic that the territory belongs to the Ecuadorian government and the land rights needs to be “given” to the local tribes, since their cultural heritage has to be “protected”, as if they were some sort of living museum. The biggest confession of the Ecuadorian government was its Yasuní law from 1998, in which it admits not to own the territory and declare it an “intangible” zone. This was pretty much the only thing the Ecuadorian government has ever done that should be supported by laissez-faire champions, even though the motivation was not justifiable: offically, the law “preserved” parts of the rainforest, free market advocates should base their argumentation on the fact that the government has no legal authority over it instead. The first occupiers, the Hoaorani and Taromenane, have to decide what they want to do with their property, be it to keep it as it is, sell it, use it as farmland or industrialize it, etc.


Therefore, debating the topic of Yasuní ITT from a non-aggression principle ethics point of view, means to dismiss the false dilemma of the Ecuador’s economical well-being or preservation of the rainforest, and to see it from an ethical point of view (and ethical does not include emotional sentiments towards biodiversity as some like to think, plants and jaguars don’t have ethical problems). The real problem consists in the government’s illegitimate ownership of territories which do not belong to it. Libertarians are against the invasion of private property by definition, be it land that belongs to small tribes or anyone else, a solid debate can only be maintained from this realization.



[1] The Yasuní ITT initiative emerged from environmentalist outcries and has been adopted by the Ecuadorian government in 2007, to further determine a protected zone in the Yasuní National Park, weighing it against the possibility of oil extraction in the territory. It was based on a proposal, which stated that the world’s developed nations should pay the Ecuadorian government for not using the territory economically.

[2] To further delve into the predictable unfeasability of an “ecological economy”, and it’s erroneous economic as well as ecological assumptions from an Austrian point of view, see: “Yasuní-ITT explicado a no ecuatorianos y no (o malos) economistas”, Luis Espinosa Goded, 2013.

[3] On the “objective link” as necessary requirement for private property: Interview with Stephan Kinsella by The Libertarian (UK), 2013. Legitimization of total privatization by Hans-Herrman Hoppe, 2011.

[4] The tribes living in voluntary isolation don’t necessarily do so because of a rejection of technological and economical development. This is something we have no certain information about. If one is to believe the indications, they are survivors of tribal massacres and of extraction carried out by brutal companies, epidemics, or descendants of those survivors. These communities are scattered are living in a territory that is fictitiously divided into Ecuador, Peru and Brazil.

[5] Who owns the Amazon? by Fernando Chiocca, Ludwig von Mises Institute Brazil, 2011.

[6] Daniel Palacios comments in a mail dialogue on Amazon languages: “The government’s arrogance [pretending to be owner of a land it has never stepped a foot on] has deep roots: Spain and Portugal divided the unconquested America amongst each other in 1494. Therefore all wars between the succeeding Amazon governments have been fought over territories over which none of them ever had real ownership claims. For instance, Ecuador has never reached the Amazon [river], only on paper.” In his book Ethics of Liberty (chapter 8), Murray Rothbard calls this phenomenon the “Columbus complex”.


Translated from Spanish by Erik Vollstädt

Taken from: Instituto Ludwig von Mises Ecuador – Yasuní: La Conquista del Estado sobre las naciones amazónicas

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Erik Vollstädt

Bitnation Lead Ambassador and Community Director. Born 1993, aspiring entrepreneur and champion of voluntary societies & private property ethics. Proponent of counter-economics and competing market currencies, such as cryptocurrencies. Represented Bitnation as Lead Ambassador since 2015 at the Riga Bitcoin and Cryptocurrencies Meetup, the iBGEk basic income stage discussion in Klagenfurt (Austria), the Cointelegraph Blockchain Conference in Helsinki, the Zündfunk Netzkongress in Munich, at itnig for the Barcelona Bitcoin Community during the Mobile World Congress 2017 and at the Bitnation DevCon 2017 in Amsterdam. Author of the Bitnation blog. Media appearances include Shift (Deutsche Welle), Der Fehlende Part (RT Germany) and Zündfunk (BR2). Coordinates Bitnation's ambassador network globally and organizes meetups all over Europe. Graduated in Business Innovation & Technology Management (M.Sc.) in Girona (Catalunya, Spain). Wants to live an international lifestyle.

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  • How the blockchain will save the rainforests » Bitnation


    […] flagrant examples of this in the nature reserves sphere can be found in the administration of the Yasuní rainforest in Ecuador. The public good is being sold to oil corporations, which are likely to have “earned” […]


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