It all began with a FAX from the Citizen in March.
“President Clinton has announced the “Summit of the Americas” to be held in Miami in December. Was the Conch Republic going?”
The press release stated that Summit organizers were seeking countries to participate in the planning process, and in setting the agenda. The Conch Republic immediately forwarded the White House our acceptance of the invitation, and our offer of help. As the “Last Bastion of the Overqualified” we offered an enormous talent pool gleaned from the entire planet. We stated that strong societies evolve from systems where each individual has the opportunity to make of themselves what they wish. We spoke of sensitivity to trans-national pollution sources, and the alleviation of poverty through creativity, magic, serendipity, hard work, and unlimited opportunity for self-expression. We were ignored.
In August we began the search for hotel space during the Summit by conch-tacting the Hotel Inter-Conch-tinental which had been designated by the United States Department of State as an official delegation hotel. We were going to the Summit, anyway. Sheryl Sevilla in the hotelâ€™s sales department informed us that the hotel was completely booked by the State Department. However, she thought that they might not actually take the Royal and Presidential suites because they were “unequal accomodations”, and protocols demand that no favoritism be shown. The Presidential rented for $2200 per night, the Royal for $2500 per night. We offered $1500 per night for the Royal, leaving the Presidential open for Bill and Hill.
Two weeks later in early September, Ms. Sevilla called back and informed us that the State Department had released the Royal to the Conch Republic”, and that they would accept our offer!!!
We were stunned. The State Department allowing the Conch Republic to mingle with the heads of State at the Summit!!?? Was this a prelude to allowing our participation? Why in a hotel entirely secured for visiting heads of state were we allowed to be there?
Citizen reporter Sarah Hollander queried the State Department for her article, “Parties are Made to Crash”. Mr. Alexander Almasov replied that the Conch Republic was not invited, and besides, we were Florida and the US; not a country. We faxed Mr. Almasov a letter explaining that we were, indeed, a country under international law governing “adverse possession” between sovereign nations. We explained that the United States had never reacted to our Secession in over twelve years, and that by virtue of holding our sovereignty in a “public and notorious” manner, we had sovereign rights. We also explained that we had no intention of interfering with the legitimate interests of the US (as we were intensely loyal Americans), and that our mission to the Summit involved only our message of “humor and respect” which we thought the Hemisphere could use a lot more of. We were ignored.
Despairing of getting anywhere with the State Department, we faxed a letter to the Co-Chairs of the Florida Steering Committee for the Summit including Lt. Gov. Buddy MacKay, and Miami Herald publisher David Lawrence, asking them to “help us find our rightful place in this historic event.”
Mr. Lawrence wrote us back! However, he cautioned us that this Summit was serious business, and that we were in a position to do the US serious harm in the Hemisphere by making fun of the Summit. Appalled, we wrote back explaining that “humor based on derision was not the kind of humor we found funny in the Conch Republic”, and that we had no intention of making fun of the Summit; and only wished to spread our message of “humor, and respect.”
Mr. Lawrence wrote back applauding “humor and respect”, and told us he was forwarding our entire package to Mr. Mack McLarty at the White House, and to Amb. Charles Gillespie at the State Department. We were finally being considered at the very top. The euphoria was short lived, however, when our calls to Mr. McLarty and Amb. Gillispie went unanswered. The secretaries in both of their offices thought we were quite funny, but the bosses wouldnâ€™t play.
We explained to them in faxed transmissions that as “Americaâ€™s Own Little Country”, as shining examples of a country that wasnâ€™t afraid to reinvent itself to meet changing times, and our contention that we represent what is best about America; we could and would be an asset to America in Hemispheric politics. They still ignored our existence.
Meanwhile, our delegation to the Summit was taking shape. Mel Fisherâ€™s Maritime Heritage Society agreed to produce an exhibit of the Lost Treasures of the Nuestra Senora de Atocha and the Santa Margarita. Mel himself, as our Minister of Underwater Affairs agreed to attend; and became our first sponsor. The Hogâ€™s Breath, Rickâ€™s Bar, the Green Parrot, Audio-Video International, Blue Heaven, Emeralds International, Key West Marine Hardware, and the Key West Shirt Factory graciously agreed to sponsor our delegation, as well. As the only country going to the Summit by virtue of the willing consent of the governed (i.e.: voluntary contributions instead of tax dollars) we were on our way! Reef Relief contributed an exhibit to our presentation, and we felt we had an effective delegation.
Meanwhile, David Lawrence continued to put pressure on the White House and State Department to include the Conch Republic by publishing an article about our exclusion from the Summit as snubbed guests whose “unarmed, but disarming campaign” to establish sovereignty was being ignored.
On Thursday morning, the 8th of December at 8 AM, we departed the Conch Republic for the Summit. Arriving at the Hotel Inter-Conch-tinental, we found the place literally swarming with police, military, Secret Service and State Department Security personnel. Producing my red Diplomatic Passport from the Conch Republic, we were waved right through to the front of the hotel portico, and up the red carpet to the lobby.
We were thoroughly dressed for the part. Undersecretary, Tim Smith was pin striped in blue, Special Attache for Order out of Chaos, Carol Bentley-Ely was dazzlingly befrocked. And Barbara Cora Gohringer, Personal Assistant to the Secretary General wore a lovely silk suit. We cut a swath through the lobby to the amazed looks of the Secret Service, carrying the sacred Queen Conch.
Ushered to the 33rd floor by bemused hotel personnel, who were well briefed on our delegation, we found the entire floor secured by State Department Security. The Canadian Prime Minister was down the hall, and the Secretary Genera of the Organization of American States was right next door. We moved in and set up our presentation. Blowing the Conch Horn to warm the cold marble brought State Department Security right away. They smiled, they laughed, they loved it…
Later we found out we were under a State Department media “blackout.”
Having listened to many complaints during television round table discussions of the abuse of the credentials process by government, we shouldnâ€™t have been surprised. If government wants something blacked out, they merely threaten to withdraw an individualâ€™s press credentials to cover an event. We ran into this immediately when a television crew wandered into our suite while waiting to interview OAS Secretary General, Cesar Gaviria of Columbia, our next door neighbor. “Ah!”, they said, “this is exactly the kind of color we would like to cover…can we come right back and interview you?” Of course… We watched as State Department Security took them aside for a chat…we never saw them again. Isolated and alone, we bemoaned the death of the free press…the free exchange and expression of ideas.
As we sat and pondered how to handle the blackout, we looked out over Biscayne Bay from 33 floors up. The Florida Marine Patrol was out on the Bay in force. Thirty boats patrolled back and forth securing the hotel and its docks. The largest was flying a blue and yellow flag from its stern. Could it be possible? Was that a Conch Republic flag? It was worth a look.
Down on the dock, the red passport worked its magic, and sure enough, the ORION out of Key West was flying our flag! Blowing a blast on the Conch Horn got their attention, and they motored over. “When we got here and saw all these flags, we got out our own”, said the Skipper! It was a beautiful sight.
Our spirits restored, we set about the daunting task of luring summit delegates to our suite. Mel arrived. Wrapping a two pound gold chain around the neck of our hotel convention service representative, Cathleen Kenny, Mel convinced her to allow us to display his posters in the lobby. Our magnificently dressed delegation took one-page flyers, and our background booklets on the Conch Republic down to the lobby and buttonholed delegates, heads of state, and even Commerce Secretary Ron Brown.
The trickle of visitors to our suite became a flood. They listened to our story, ogled the treasures, picked up Reef Relief information; obtained passports, and went away delighted with our Tiny Islands Nation.
Meanwhile, the State Department Security guys were starting to relax and enjoy the Conch Republic. Coming into our suite they began to ask for passports, laugh with us, and respect the dignity and decorum we were exhibiting. “Investigation of passport fraud is our other task,” they joked as we took their pictures and validated their Conch Republic Passports. They left laughing and muttering about their jobs.
Two gentlemen from the Miami Police Department Special Investigations Section arrived with guns and scowls, asking for the full names and dates of birth for those staying in the suite. They left with passports, bumper stickers, and smiles. The Joker was pleased. They were beginning to appreciate a full deck.
Delegates began to arrive. The Finance Minister from Trinadad and Tobago, the Minister of Trade and Industry from Belize, members of the Canadian Delegation, gentlemen from Columbia, several White House Fellows, the Trade Representative from the Democratic National Commitee, the head of the Argus Foundation, representatives from the Ocean Bank, and a small flood of State Department Security people all wanting passports. We were a hit.
Late Saturday afternoon the heads of state returned by boat to the hotel dock from their hard dayâ€™s work at Viscaya. A dozen heads of state from the Caribbean were at our hotel; and disembarking with their delegations. Well loved by State Department Security at this, point, we were allowed to bring out flag and Conch Horn onto the dock to welcome them back. Mighty blasts from the elegant Queen brought broad smiles to the faces of the weary Prime Ministers, Presidents, and delegates. Our mission was bearing fruit.
The Conch and the flag also attracted the Associated Press, CNN, the London Financial Times, and a Toronto daily to our delegation. We were overcoming the blackout. Asked our position on free trade by the Financial Times we told them we believed in free everything, especially people.
In the end we were interviewed by all of the above, plus Reuters News Service worldwide; the Voice of America, WSBH in Miami (a thirty minute interview), and are interviewing with the Canadian Broadcasting Company coast to coast and worldwide on shortwave. The world knows that the Conch Republic exists.
Our open house and reception on Saturday night brought Conch Republican Tim Wegman of A- 410 Piano service; Michele Hardin, Adrienne and Marcia of the duo Aye!, Robyn Fear, John Nowell, and Ariella Saks to the suite. The barge used for setting off the fireworks display positioned itself just below in Biscayne Bay. At 1:30 AM they began. The shells climbed and climbed until they were right at eye level from our vantage point 33 floors up, and then… exploded right in our faces. They built and climbed, ebbed and flowed, went on and on, building to a crescendo that literally filled the sky in front of our eyes with a magnificence that defied description. When the President wants to impress a Hemisphere, he can really put on a show.
Perhaps the most exciting outcome of our advent upon the world stage was an invitation by the old he-coon, himself, Gov. Lawton Chiles, to attend his Inauguration in Tallahassee on the 3rd of January. We spoke with his Inaugural Committee, and our arrangements were made. We were to be blowing a Conch Salute to the Governor…a Governor who also serves the Conch Republic as our Special Envoy for Mainland Affairs. As the only foreign country invited to his inauguration, we were proud. We carried the Flag, we carried the Queen Conch to Tallahassee, we werenâ€™t blacked out this time… We were welcome!
What follows is the Report to the Nation on this Historic event: The Governor’s Inauguration