The Rise and Fall of Miamiland

Way back in 1998 the citizens of Dade County rose up and declared themselves an independent republic. Then the hangover hit.

Back in Dade, Mayor Penelas organized a November 9 conference call that connected the county commission with the mayors of the county's 30 municipalities. Many delegates came to the so-called TeleCongressª already committed to declaring Dade independent from the United States; others wanted to break into subcommittees and debate the issue further.

It fell to Penelas to build consensus. He described the fruits of the secret Washington negotiations, noting that the secession agreement most acceptable to all sides would

*cede to the United States all the Dade territory west of the North-South Levee, including Everglades National Park

*guarantee U.S. foreign aid for the new nation
*ensure U.S. support for formal recognition of the new nation in the United Nations

*divide Coconut Grove into two sectors, east and west, with the dividing line drawn in the middle of Virginia Street, between CocoWalk and Mayfair (the West Grove would remain a U.S. entity, surrounded by a twenty-foot-high concrete wall)

*cede Aventura and Golden Beach to Broward County
In short order, a clear majority of the TeleCongressª voted to secede, after which debate about what to name the new nation-state raged into the wee hours.

All that remained was a declaration of independence. On Thursday, November 12, 1998, the delegates assembled on the steps of the Freedom Tower in downtown Miami. Under the glare of the klieg lights, with TV news satellites beaming the event around the world, Penelas flipped open a laptop computer that sat on a velvet-draped table and began to type: "We, the representatives of the Independent Republic of Miamiland (formerly known as Metropolitan-Dade County), do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of this county, solemnly Publish and Declare, That this is, and of Right ought to be, a Free and Independent State; that it is absolved from all Allegiance to the United States of America...." Then, as a hush fell over the crowd, the mayor solemnly pushed the 'send' key and the e-mail was on its way to the White House.

Though the politicians had overlooked the small matter of naming a general, a ragtag militia mobilized on its own, and the land echoed with a battle song penned by Mas Canosa's team of publicists (its lyrics a product of extensive focus-group research):

Come on, boys, grab your rifles
'Cause this fight is for more than trifles:
Whether you say "hola" or "howdy,"
Let's get rowdy, boys, let's get rowdy!

Hurrah, boys, hurrah!
AOle, muchachos, ole!
From Opa-locka to the Redlands,
From the 'Glades to Biscayne Bay!

In a subsequent TeleCongressª, Penelas presented a governmental blueprint for Miamiland. Devised by Mas Canosa the previous year while he lay in a hospital bed, the plan called for the division of the country into 157 states and the formation of a governmental structure that resembled the tripartite American system. Penelas was tapped to lead a provisional government comprising every sitting mayor and commissioner, municipal and county. The assembly also agreed to adopt the U.S. Constitution practically wholesale, save for a few alterations to include Xavier Suarez's suggested modifications, plus minor changes to the First and Second Amendments. (The First Amendment was made to read: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievance, except if said 'freedom' is repugnant to Congress, and especially if it portrays Fidel Castro as anything more evolutionarily advanced than fungus." The reworked Second Amendment read: "A well-regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear arms and fire them indiscriminantly whenever they get worked up, such as on New Year's Eve, shall not be infringed.")

In addition, Florida's so-called Sunshine Law, a statute that prohibited two or more elected officials from discussing official business outside a public meeting, was inverted to permit precisely such activity.

Passage of the Miamiland Compromise in Washington wasn't as smooth as had been expected. A strong environmental lobby protested the loss of Biscayne Bay and demanded that the national park remain a part of the United States. The enviros aligned with a group of unionists who predicted -- correctly, as it turned out -- that allowing Dade to secede would set an irreversible precedent.

Secession was narrowly approved on December 16, largely as a result of a shocking speech by Sen. Jesse Helms, a previously staunch anti-Castro North Carolina Republican who now rose to call Miami "a swampy, overrated tourist trap" and its power brokers "arrogant pains in the ass."

The provisional government wasted no time making its mark. Income and corporate taxes were abolished, and further financial incentives were instituted to persuade companies and private investors not to leave. Major corporations quickly realized that as long as they remained politically neutral, they could continue to do business in both Miamiland and the United States. Broward-based multimillionaire Wayne Huizenga became the Armand Hammer of the peninsula, moving freely between the two nations. His sports teams prospered in their individual bayfront stadiums. And tourism flourished after receiving a boost from two legislative acts: the legalization of gambling and, in the State of South Beach, prostitution.

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