The Conch Republic – Key West, Florida - Atlas Obscura

We hear the term “third world” tossed around with a much greater frequency than the other “worlds.” Based on an outmoded Cold War taxonomy in which the first world consists of The United States and the capitalist NATO nations and their allies, the second world of the communist Soviet Union and its allies, the third of former colonies/developing nations, and the fourth rarely mentioned world of stateless nations or peoples.

The Conch Republic in the Florida Keys has declared that is the world’s first “fifth world” nation: “We exist as a ‘State of Mind,’ and aspire only to bring more Warmth, Humor and Respect to a planet we find in sore need of all three.”

In the early 80s, South Florida became a conduit for illegal immigrants and illegal drugs. To stem the flow, the United States Border Patrol set up inspection points on the two roads connecting the Florida Keys to the mainland. Key West City was not happy. The federal government did not respond to their protests, and the mayor of the city, Dennis Wardlow, declared “independence” on April 23, 1982. Interpreting the roadblock as a national border, the city decided to become another nation.

Wardlow, though, is a bit of a joker. His protest was a tongue-in-cheek gambit for attention and a boost in tourism. Though the roadblock was shortly removed, the city continues to joke about its “secession” and hosts an annual Independence celebration each April.

All residents are dual citizens of both America and the Conch Republic. But non-native Conch Republicans can buy a Conch Republic passport for a very reasonable $100. Though some tourists come for the Conch Republic, most come to see Ernest Hemingway’s House which is also located in the Conch Republic and home to its own oddity, 60 cats descended from Hemmingway’s famous six toed cat. Many of the descendant cats are also six toed.

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March 28, 2010

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