Ignore Florida law on Cuba trade, county attorney says

Thu Mar 22, 2012 12:18pm EDT

* Law would bar contracts for firms working with Cuba

* County attorney says federal law trumps state law

* Law appears aimed at Brazil’s Odebrecht engineering giant

MIAMI, March 22 (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

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.