The Sir Peter Anderson Story
As Told to Mark Howell
In early November 1994, Peter Anderson, Secretary General of the Conch Republic, received a message from Bill Becker at US 1 Radio that President Clinton was calling for the First Summit of the Americas to be held in Miami in December.
The President issued a call to nations in the hemisphere who wanted to participate in the planning process to contact the White House.
(In order to exclude Cuba, participants in the summit were limited to countries with a duly elected head of government. While the Secretary General of the Conch Republic was appointed, the duly elected Mayor of Key West has always stood as our Prime Minister.)
The press release, which Bill Becker forwarded to the Secretary General’s office, listed a Mac McLarty as the contact person. Peter Anderson immediately sat down and wrote a letter to Mr. McLarty pledging the Conch Republic’s participation and assistance in the planning process. In his letter, Anderson referenced the need for healing in the hemisphere, given the genocidal tendencies of colonialism.
The Conch Republic never heard back from him.
In September, a Miami Herald article on the upcoming summit referenced the Hotel Intercontinental on Biscayne Bay as headquarters for visiting delegations. Secretary General Peter Anderson contacted the Intercontinental and reached the director of sales, Ms. Sharon Sevilla. She informed the Secretary General that the entire hotel had been reserved by the U. S. Department of State and that she really couldn’t even rent a broom closet, much less the junior suite he was looking for.
Undaunted, the Secretary General pressed on, asking Ms. Sevilla what other properties might be nearby where the Conch Republic could establish a presence at the Summit.
Eventually, Ms. Sevilla said: “You know, in point of fact, no one will be occupying our Royal Suite or our Presidential Suite because the State Department needs to afford each country equal accommodation.”
The Secretary General immediately inquired as to the rates for these two suites. Ms. Sevilla quoted two astronomical figures per night for the three nights of the summit. The Secretary General offered her half the published rate for the Royal Suite, since it wasn’t going to be rented anyway. (“We’ll leave the Presidential Suite,” he added, “to Bill and Hillary in case they want it.”)
Ms. Sevilla replied, “Mr. Secretary, I’ll have to direct your enquiry to the State Department and ask them if they’ll free up the Royal Suite to the Conch Republic.”
The Secretary General responded, “Please.”
Lo and behold, three weeks later, the Secretary General received a call from Ms. Sevilla: “The State Department has released the Royal Suite to the Conch Republic during the Summit.”
Incredulous, the Secretary General gave Ms. Sevilla a credit card to guarantee the reservation. Pinching himself, the Secretary General walked across the street of his trailer park at 613 Greene St. to the trailer of the Undersecretary General Tim Smith (since deceased) to begin planning a delegation to the Summit of the Americas. When Tim stopped pinching himself, they got down to planning in earnest. They decided they wanted to present to the hemisphere two things: What was most relevant to the hemisphere itself and what represented the best of the Conch Republic. They settled on inviting Mel Fisher with his exhibits on the Atocha and the slave ship Henrietta Marie, representing the history of the hemisphere. They also decided to take an exhibit on Little Palm Island, representing appropriate and sustainable development; plus an exhibit on Reef Relief representing the Keys’ homegrown commitment to the environment.
Finally the day arrived in December when the Conch Republic’s delegation set out in a caravan of three vehicles with Conch Republic flags taped to the fenders.
Security began three blocks away from the hotel. After passing through checkpoint after checkpoint, the Conch Republic delegates pulled up under the portico of the Hotel Intercontinental. Since they were checking into the Royal Suite, deferential treatment began immediately. The whole delegation was dressed to the nines, the gentlemen all in impeccable suits, the ladies in flowing silk gowns, sweeping into the lobby and ushered into a private receiving area. They were issued keys and directed to the suite without further ado. The only thing Peter Anderson carried with his own hands was the conch horn. As for the rest of their luggage and exhibits and the cars themselves, they were left to the hotel staff to deal with.
They stepped into an elevator and were whisked up to the 34th and 35th, the top two floors of the hotel. Riding in the express elevator with them were several other gentlemen sporting lapel pins identifying them as State Department security, with flesh-colored earphones and speaking into their shirtsleeves.
Ever the gregarious one, the Secretary General introduced himself and his delegation from the Conch Republic. “Perhaps you’ve heard of us?”
One fellow, seemingly in charge, said, “Oh, we know all about you.”
The Secretary General decided to stay silent….
Ushered by hotel staff into their suite through two, huge mahogany double doors, they were most pleased with their new digs. Twelve-foot windows, five-foot wide, three-foot deep windowsills framed a vast panorama of Biscayne Bay, Fisher Island, Miami Beach and the Atlantic Ocean in the distance. This truly was a place where the gods lived.
There was only one issue. There were no flowers; there was no candy, no fruit baskets, no complementary liquor with full ice baskets. It felt like the delegates were not even expected, much less honored guests.
So the Secretary General decided to perform a little test. Rather than calling to complain, Peter Anderson went into a lengthy diatribe on the lack of amenities and told the story of how, once upon a time in the Hôtel Normandie in Deauville, France, he obtained a free night’s lodging by virtue of the fact that they’d failed to deliver his shined shoes that he put in the little box next to the door.
So he dressed in a suit and tie and in his stockinged feet marched down to the desk and demanded that he meet with Monsieur Directeur. When Monsieur came out of his office, Anderson held his eyes as they moved down toward his stockinged feet. The hotel directeur blanched and asked what could be done for Monsieur? Anderson said, “You can bring me my shoes and we’ll just forget last night ever happened and start over again today.” We were not charged for that night.
After recounting this story for the delegation, he called for their cars and went off to South Beach to meet with some friends for dinner. Returning to their suite later that night, they found flowers everywhere, fruit baskets and bowls of candyin every room, the bar in the pantry fully stocked with full bottles of every imaginable top-shelf liquor.
“We finally felt well received,” recalls the Secretary General, who also now knew with complete certainty that those walls had ears.
In the run-up to the Summit, Anderson had contacted members of the Florida Coordinating Committee for the Summit to express the Conch Republic’s desire for inclusion and stating categorically that its entire mission was to seek to bring more “humor, warmth and respect” to the hemisphere.
The only respondent to this letter was David Lawrence, publisher of the Miami Herald, who wrote Anderson a letter stating that the Conch Republic’s aspirations, in making fun of the United States, posed a grave danger to the serious nature of the Summit.
Appalled by these assertions, the Secretary wrote him back, stating that, to the contrary, the Conch Republic represented what was best about American people “unafraid to stand up to government gone mad with power” and that “we do not mean to be derisive of the United States. In fact we do not find humor based on derision to be funny.”
Lawrence wrote Anderson back in the form of an apology, asking what he could do to help. Anderson suggested that he contact Mac McLarty at the White House regarding the Conch Republic’s ambitions and ask what role we might play.
After that, without being requested, two articles appeared in the Miami Herald titled “Snubbed Conch Republic Wants In On Summit.”
In light of this positive publicity, the Conch Republic had scheduled a press conference. A podium was brought to the Royal Suite and the delegates were dressed in their finest attire at the appointed hour for the event.
No one turned up.
It was then that we learned the State Department had imposed a press blackout on the Conch Republic. Reporters who were lined up down the hall outside of the Royal Suite to interview the head of the Organization of American States, the Conch Republic’s next-door neighbor, “would come into our suite,” recalls Anderson, “fall in love with the Republic and ask if they could come back for an in-depth interview. We never saw them again.”
When questioned later, several reporters stated that they’d been told they were perfectly free to interview the Conch Republic, just surrender their State Department-issued press credential hanging from around their necks.
Anderson had heard of these abuses of the credential process but was now experiencing them first hand. He launched into a diatribe to the walls of the Royal Suite that this was not the America his father and adoptive father had fought World War lI over, that this was not the America that so many had fought and died to preserve over hundreds of years. Thus it was that the Secretary General delivered a history lesson to those with ears to hear.
“Needless to say, this kind of treatment was depressing to us as we lay about the suite, licking our wounds —until we looked out the window and saw, among dozens of law-enforcement vessels beneath the hotel in Biscayne Bay was a Florida Marine Patrol boat flying a Conch Republic flag on its stern.”
Buoyed and emboldened, they made their way down to the waterfront and found an officer with a radio patrolling the dock. They asked if he’d raise the Marine Patrol vessel on our behalf. He agreed, and up to the dock motored that vessel flying the flag under the command of one Steve Dion, an old Conch boy. He said: “When I saw all these vessels flying all these flags from all these countries, I dove into my locker and pulled out my Conch Republic flag.”
From that moment, everything seemed to change.
The delegates at the Intercontinental were being ferried by large passenger vessels from the hotel dock to theVizcaya, returning each day. So the Conch Republic delegates asked permission to greet the returning delegates from other countries at the dock with blasts from the conch horn and a proper dipping of the Conch Republic flag. Permission was granted. Faces of the delegates lit up with broad smiles. The Conch Republic’s mission to bring more “humor, warmth and respect” to the hemisphere was working.
At the end of the day, Anderson and his delegates were interviewed for feature stories published by The Toronto Star, the London Financial Times and Voice of America among others.
The Conch Republic’s delegates left the Summit feeling they’d definitely placed the Conch Republic on the hemispheric map, that their mission at the end of the day had been a grand success despite initial resistance.
Passports topic of conversation
The Secretary General set up a Conch Republic passport factory in the dining room of the Royal Suite. A number of State Department personnel came in and filled out applications, got their pictures taken and Conch Republic passports were issued on the spot.
To a man, they all said, “We investigate passport fraud for the United States Government.” The Secretary General would say, “Thank God you work for them and not for us, or you’d have to be working right now.”
At that point, Anderson would whip out his Conch Republic diplomatic passport to show multiple entries into the U.S. “Gentlemen,” he’d say, “you are standing on sovereign territory and need to mind your manners.” Smoke issued from their ears.
One thing the Conch Republic could be sure of. Our passport was the single most talked-about document in security circles of the United States in the weeks before Christmas in 1994.
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