Posted by:Keywester, 8:58 PM GMT on April 25, 2009
Celebrations are winding down in Key West, but here's the history! The Conch Republic is a micronation declared as a tongue-in-cheek protest secession of the city of Key West from the United States on April 23, 1982. It has been maintained as a tourism booster for the city since.
While the protest that sparked its creation, and others which have occurred periodically since then have been described by some as "tongue-in-cheek", they were motivated by frustrations over genuine concerns. The original protest event was motivated by a U.S. Border Patrol roadblock and checkpoint which greatly inconvenienced residents and was detrimental to tourism in the area.
Although the Conch Republic is not, and never was, a real secessionist movement, many in Key West continue to identify with the concerns that motivated the original protest against what they view as an "unresponsive" central government taking action without considering all of the implications. At least three related protests have taken place subsequent to the original incident.
The Conch Republic celebrates Independence Day every April 23 as part of a week-long festival of activities involving numerous businesses in Key West. The organization - a "Sovereign State of Mind, seeking only to bring more "Humor, Warmth, and Respect" to a world in sore need of all three according to its Secretary General, Peter Anderson - is a key tourism booster for the area. In 1982, the United States Border Patrol set up a roadblock and inspection point on US 1 just north of the merger of Monroe County Road 905A/Miami-Dade County Road 905A onto US 1 (they are the only two roads connecting the Florida Keys with the mainland), in front of the Last Chance Saloon just south of Florida City. Vehicles were stopped and searched for narcotics and illegal immigrants. The Key West City Council complained repeatedly about the inconvenience for travelers to and from Key West, claiming that it hurt the Keys' important tourism industry. In fact, Eastern Air Lines, which had a hub at Miami International Airport, saw a window of opportunity when the roadblocks were established; Eastern became the only airline to establish jet service to Key West International Airport, counting on travelers from Key West to Miami preferring to fly rather than to wait for police to search their vehicles.
When the City Council's complaints went unanswered by the Federal Government and attempts to get an injunction against the roadblock failed in court, as a form of protest Mayor Dennis Wardlow and the Council declared the Key West's "independence" on April 23, 1982. In the eyes of the Council, since the federal government had set up the equivalent of a border station as if they were a foreign nation, they might as well become one. As many of the local citizens were referred to as Conchs, the "nation" took the name of the Conch Republic.
As part of the protest, Mayor Wardlow was proclaimed Prime Minister of the Republic, which immediately declared war against the U.S. (symbolically breaking a loaf of stale Cuban bread over the head of a man dressed in a naval uniform), quickly surrendered after one minute (to the man in the uniform), and applied for one billion dollars in foreign aid.
The mock secession and the events surrounding it generated great publicity for the Keys' plight — the roadblock and inspection station were removed soon afterward. It also resulted in the creation of a new avenue of tourism for the Keys. Sea War 2009 Published in the Key West Citizen