"The sea, once it casts its spell, holds one in
its net of wonder forever."—Jacques Cousteau

January 27, 2015

Jan. 27 - Conch Republic

Key West and the Florida Keys are sometimes referred to as the Conch Republic…here is the reason why.

In 1982, the U.S. Border Patrol set up a blockade in Florida City, the last stop on the mainland before reaching Key Largo. Their plan was to block the never-ending flow of illegal drugs into America from the unenforceable archipelago that is the Florida Keys. If you lived in the Keys, but happened to travel to the mainland, you had to wait in a patience-testing line to suffer the indignity of showing your ID to get into the Keys and back home. This blockade created a terrible bottleneck and a feeling of frustration for both locals and tourists. But the tourists didn’t let it bother them for long, they just stopped coming. Not good for the Keys that relied on tourism. 

The mayor of Key West at the time was not amused by the Border Patrol treating the Florida Keys like a foreign country, so he and his allies came up with a plan: They went to the Federal Court in Miami to seek an injunction to stop the federal blockade, but things didn’t go well and they were turned away. In response the mayor of Key West went to his backup plan and stepped out on to the courthouse steps and announced to the assembled TV crews, reporters and the world: “Tomorrow at noon, the Florida Keys will secede from the Union!” The next day, at Mallory Square, the mayor of Key West read a proclamation of secession and proclaimed that Key West and the Florida Keys would now be known as the “Conch Republic” and that it was an independent nation separate from the U.S. Then the mayor symbolically began the Conch Republic’s civil rebellion by breaking a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in a U.S. Navy uniform. After one minute of rebellion, the now ‘Prime Minister’ turned to the Admiral in charge of the Navy Base at Key West, surrendered to the ‘Union Forces’ and demanded one-billion dollars in foreign aid and war relief to rebuild the new nation -- the Conch Republic! 

Embarrassed by the negative publicity, the U.S. Border Patrol immediately ceased and desisted. Key West and the Florida Keys still rejoice in the title of Conch Republic, and they have flags, hats, T-shirts, a fun spring/summer independence-day celebration, fairly authentic-looking passports and a motto: 'We seceded where others failed.'

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