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KEY WEST (CBSMiami/FKNB)- The year’s Conch Republic Independence celebration continues, but mandatory federal budget cuts known as sequester have kept the Coast Guard docked.
For the past thirty years, Coast Guard Sector Key West has participated in the annual week-long festivities that celebrate a tongue-and-cheek succession.
“Because of sequester restrictions, the Coast Guard cannot do anything non-operational,” said event organizer Peter Anderson, the secretary general of the Conch Republic. “They’re not allowed to come out and play, which has been a great community involvement, morale builder and recruitment tool for 30 years.”
So the featured vessel Friday evening at the Conch Republic Naval Parade and Great Battle was a commercial fishing boat sporting faux Coast Guard graphics and named “Seaquester” for the evening. Celebration organizers said they were not upset with Coast Guard officials, but were resentful the political climate prevented their participation.
“Apparently our politicians have forgotten the fact that the day they were elected they were supposed to become Americans again and do a job for ‘we the people,’” he said. “And in fact they’re treating us these days with the disdain once reserved for the British king.”
Keys officials and business leaders formed the Conch Republic on April 23, 1982, to protest the surprise installation of a U.S. Border Patrol roadblock at the top of the Florida Keys Overseas Highway.
Incensed at the checkpoint and the thought of the Keys being treated as a foreign country, residents “seceded” from the U.S., declared war, promptly surrendered and applied for $1 billion in foreign aid. The aid never came, but the checkpoint faded away and the quirkiness of the Conch Republic remains.
The 2013 celebration continues through Sunday.
The Florida Keys News Bureau contributed to this report.