20. The Birth of the Independent Republic of Vemerana, and Its Swift Demise
The Phoenix Foundation did not give up on its plan for a libertarian paradise. So it took another stab at the South Pacific, this time in Vanuatu, an archipelago controlled by France. There, as independence neared, French planters feared the threat to their land holdings by a native majority, and plotted secession. They were led by a cult leader named Jimmy Stevens, who dubbed himself “Moses”. He wore long robes and grew a long white beard, and had a harem of twenty-three wives. The Foundation bought and smuggled guns to Vanuatu, and made passports, flags, and coins that bore Stevens’ face. All in all, the Foundation spent about a quarter million dollars – serious money in a place as poor as Vanuatu, population 115,000 at the time.
Stevens led a rebellion in 1980, and declared the independent Republic of Vemerana. Vanuatu had no military to suppress the rebels, so it seemed that third time was the charm for Oliver’s libertarian dream. The scheme backfired, however, when Vanuatu sought aid from nearby Papua New Guinea, which did have an army. It sent a battalion, which swiftly crushed the rebellion. Oliver was deported and permanently banned from Vanuatu, and his libertarian coconspirators fled. Stevens was arrested, charged, convicted, and received a fourteen year sentence. Michael Oliver was a successful businessman, but as a libertarian nation builder, he was a three-time loser. The Phoenix Foundation did not rise from the ashes of its Vanuatu debacle, and finally faded away.