From a small northwestern observatory…

Finance and economics generally focused on real estate

The Independent Conch Republic

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Week-before-last, I had the real pleasure of attending the victory ceremonies for the 33rd annual re-enactment of the Conch Republic rebellion.  The original battle in 1982 took about 90 minutes.  The annual re-enactment takes about 9 days.

Perhaps I should explain — and believe it or not, all of this is true.  In 1980, the between April and October, the Cuban government allowed about 125,000 refugees to escape to Florida in a boatlift which has come to be known as the Marial Boat Lift (the refugees left Marial Harbor in Cuba).  Since it’s only about 90 miles from Key West to Cuba, my little island “home-away-from-home” became ground zero for the influx.  I’ll let you check out Wikipedia for the details on that.

With usual government efficiency, two years later (April, 1982) the U.S. Border Patrol set up a check-point to screen for illegal immigrants just south of Homestead, Fl, where all of the roads into the keys converge like an hourglass.  Naturally, SNAFU was the order of the day, and the tourists and beer trucks simply couldn’t get thru, freezing the economy of what is now Monroe County (a neglected part of Dade County, back then).  Well, Key West Mayor Dennis Wardlaw, acting at the direction of the City Council, sought an injunction in Federal District Court.  When asked what the outcome would be if the injunction was not granted, Hizzoner said that we’d simply have to succeed from the union.

With that, Mayor Wardlaw was proclaimed Prime Minister, and the Conch Republic War Fleet (actually, a wooden-hulled sailing schooner) declared war on the Coast Guard and threw loaves of stale Cuban bread at one of the Coast Guard cutters.  The Coasties, after picking themselves up off their decks from laughter, turned the fire hose on the Conchs and demanded they cease and desist.  With that (the combat portion of the battle lasting approximately one minute), the Conchs raised the white flag of surrender and demanded One Billion Dollars in war reparations.  The Conch Republic now has a navy (all volunteers, significantly officer-heavy, and thoroughly practiced at the art of mixing drinks), an Air Force (all bi-planes — you can take a ride on one when you’re visiting KW), and a small coast artillery battery.

As an epilogue, in 1995, the U.S. Army Reserve scheduled a training exercise simulating an invasion of a foreign island. They were to land on Key West and conduct affairs as if the islanders were foreign. However, no one notified local officials of the exercise.  With that, the Conch Republic mobilized and declared war.  The Army issued an apology the next day, saying they “in no way meant to challenge or impugn the sovereignty of the Conch Republic”, and submitted to a surrender ceremony on September 22.  Also that year, the Federal Government had its famous shut-down, leading to the closure of the Park Service’s Fort Jefferson, a major Keys tourist attraction.  Noting that the Smithsonian was kept open during this period with private donations, local Conch took up a collection to keep Ft. Jefferson open, but could not find anyone to accept the money.  With that, Conch Republic forces set sail for Ft. Jefferson (it’s only accessible by water or float plane) and “captured” the fort.  When the shut-down was lifted, and the park service attempted to regain the fort, they were cited for trespassing.  The ensuing court case was eventually dropped.

Anyway, if you’re looking for a good time in late April, the hotel rooms are plentiful that time of year and the beer is cheap.  See y’all next year.

Written by johnkilpatrick

May 8, 2015 at 10:54 am

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