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South Florida Has A History of Smuggling.








The archipelago of the Florida Keys begins just offshore of Miami and runs from the mainland out into the Gulf of Mexico, leeward of the Barrier Reef. Like a 150-mile long bracelet, cast off a mermaid’s delicate wrist, the Keys cascade south and west to Fort Jefferson, a Civil War-era fortress on Garden Key, once called the Gibraltar of the Gulf. To drive along this chain, one leaves Miami and heads 25 miles south to Homestead and Florida City, then off the mainland through estuaries and swamp to Key Largo and down US 1, the Overseas Highway, to begin island jumping over 42 bridges.

     Originally built all the way to Key West for Henry Flagler’s railroad to sea, one bridge was seven miles long, for much of the twentieth century it was the longest bridge in the world. Mileposts count down from somewhere around 120 near Jewfish Creek, in Key Largo to the much-stolen, mile-marker zero at the end of the road, in Key West.

     South of Key Largo is Tavernier, so called because old charts of the area showed the channel of a natural, deeper-water creek connecting the Oceanside with the Gulf or bayside of the island chain with the notation: “Tavern near creek.”

     Today’s Village of Islamorada, or purple island, named in Spanish for the thorny bougainvillea flowers that grow there, includes Plantation Key, Windley Key and Upper and Lower Matecumbe.

     Plantation Key, near mile-marker 88, is the location of the famous gourmet restaurant named for its address and is the island right in the middle of the stomping grounds of the characters that inhabit these stories.

     Closer to Havana than it is to Miami, the famous tourist island-town of Key West is just ninety miles across the Gulfstream from the Cuban capital. An equal distance up the Keys is Islamorada, In between are thousands of islands and coves and basins and inlets and channels and places to hide. That’s why the area has been a haven for smugglers since the times of the Spanish Main up until sometime late last night and continuing for as long as some people outlaw items others choose to make a profit from supplying.

     The waters have been sailed by the famous and infamous, notably Blackbeard, Bogie, Hemmingway and Zane Grey. From pirates and privateers during the founding of the original colonies in the seventeenth century, to blockade runners in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars, rumrunners during alcohol prohibition, migrant and refugee traffickers, marijuana purveyors, cocaine cowboys, and other contraband smugglers of today, the area is rich in the history of people bringing in stuff the government has said they were not allowed to import.

     In the late 1960s and the 70s, an unpopular war was staffed by conscripted youth just out of high school. Forced to go to a strange and alien country, they fought an enemy that was often indistinguishable from the villagers they were sent to advise militarily, they found drugs were plentiful, cheap and immensely liberating from the hell of the theatre of war into which they had been dropped. Upon returning home they brought with them a taste for the marijuana and other substances they had used to escape, and an attitude of acceptance of herb as harmless and recreational.

     In what people remember as a permissive era, the government also cracked down on rebellious protestors, dissidents and malcontents, when the establishment fought back with the “war on drugs,” specifically marijuana.

     Miami and the Keys, with a year-round mild climate, had an equally warm climate for newcomers seeking to make their fortune. Cuban refugees after the overthrow of Batista and then the Cuban missile crisis meant that soon a large part of the population was bi-lingual, breaking down a barrier to commerce between the area and Latin America.

     CIA operatives were stationed in safe houses throughout the southern tip of the state plotting the Bay of Pigs invasion and seeking to overthrow banana regimes. All these provided a workforce to the smuggling trade. It was a perfect spot and the perfect time -- a window of opportunity, before the Drug Enforcement Administration had their footing -- for the marijuana invasion from the southern part of the continent to the United States and Colombian Gold was the brand name of choice for weed, the best pot that had ever been available up until that time.

     This is a story of some of the opposition to the authority’s crackdown efforts. It is just some tales of people willing to risk their lives and liberty to bring back the goodies; for adventure, the high life and easy money in Smugglers’ Times.

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