Ignore Florida law on Cuba trade, county attorney says

Reuters News
Posted: Mar 22, 2012 12:23 PM
Ignore Florida law on Cuba trade, county attorney says

MIAMI (Reuters) - Florida had no authority to enact a pending law that would prohibit local governments from hiring firms that do business with Cuba because federal law trumps state law when it comes to foreign policy, the Miami-Dade county attorney has advised.

County Attorney Robert Cuevas said Miami-Dade should not enforce the law now awaiting Governor Rick Scott's signature.

The new law is the latest in a long-running series of attempts to set foreign policy toward Cuba at the local level in Florida, which is home to about 1.2 million Cuban Americans.

It would bar local governments from awarding contracts of $1 million or more to companies that engage in business with Cuba. It would also require companies bidding on such contracts to submit affidavits certifying they do not do business in Cuba.

In an advisory opinion issued on Wednesday, Cuevas told county commissioners that federal law does not authorize states to enact such restrictions and they need not enforce it.

He cited several previous court rulings that state and local governments cannot interfere with the federal government's ability to set foreign policy nor can they adopt sanctions that exceed those set by Congress.

"If the county were to violate federal law in this area, it would be exposed to liability under federal civil rights laws," Cuevas said.

Under a 50-year-old trade embargo, federal law already prevents American firms from doing business with Cuba. The pending Florida law would also apply to foreign firms and their subsidiaries.

The law would also restrict dealings with firms that do business in Syria. But the main focus of the law appears to be aimed at Odebrecht USA, a U.S. subsidiary of Brazilian construction giant Odebrecht.

The company's U.S. subsidiary has numerous construction, transportation and engineering contracts in Florida and is bidding on a proposed $700 million hotel and office complex associated with the Miami airport.

To the dismay of Cuban exiles in Miami, Odebrecht is also performing a major upgrade to the Cuban port of Mariel and has agreed to help Cuba improve its troubled sugar industry.

The new law would take effect on July 1. Governor Scott has not received a copy yet and has not indicated whether he will sign it but it had broad support in the Florida Legislature.

(Reporting by Jane Sutton; Editing by David Adams)