Informacion economica sobre Cuba

Posted on Monday, 06.25.12

Florida politics

Miami federal judge blocks new Florida anti-Cuba law from taking effect

A federal judge ruled against a law banning governments from awarding

contracts to companies whose affiliates work in Cuba. Gov. Rick Scott

had caused an uproar when he signed the law in Miami but warned it was

likely unenforceable.

BY PATRICIA MAZZEI

pmazzei@MiamiHerald.com

A Miami federal judge on Monday blocked Florida from enforcing a new

state law that prohibits governments from hiring companies with business

ties to Cuba.

A temporary injunction, ordered by U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore,

prevents the law from taking effect on Sunday as scheduled. And it deals

a blow to the politicians who backed the legislation, which was

sponsored by Miami-Dade lawmakers, approved by a near-unanimous majority

of the Legislature and signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

After an hour-long hearing late Monday, Moore ruled from the bench in

favor of Odebrecht Construction, the Coral Gables-based subsidiary of a

Brazilian engineering and construction giant.

"It's not as if there isn't some precedent there and there hasn't been a

run at this effort in the past," the judge said, referring to previous

failed legislative efforts to make it difficult to conduct business with

Cuba.

Odebrecht USA sued the Florida Department of Transportation earlier this

month over the new law, which would ban state and local government

agencies from awarding future contracts worth at least $1 million to

U.S. firms whose foreign-owned parent companies or affiliates conduct

business in Cuba or Syria. A subsidiary of Odebrecht USA's parent

company is expanding the Cuban Port of Mariel.

Odebrecht said the state law would prevent it from bidding on $3.4

billion in FDOT contracts this year, and that the company had already

suffered "irreparable harm" because the law spooked potential business

partners and employees.

Though the judge's order was directed at FDOT, it is highly unlikely

that any other state or local government agency would try to enforce the

law while the injunction is in place.

The judge agreed with Odebrecht's contention that the law conflicts with

the federal government's power to set foreign policy. The state, Moore

said, would "inject itself into foreign affairs matters, which are

traditionally under the prerogative of the executive branch."

Moore's ruling, while temporary, foreshadows that he is likely to issue

a permanent decision that the law is unenforceable. The judge wrote in

his order that Odebrecht "has demonstrated a substantial likelihood of

success with respect to its claims." He did not set a new hearing date,

and told the parties to work out a resolution.

In a statement, Odebrecht USA, which has been involved in some of South

Florida's most visible projects, including the Adrienne Arsht Center for

the Performing Arts and AmericanAirlines Arena, said it was "very

gratified" by Moore's ruling.

"We are extremely proud of our 21-year track record of performance and

community involvement in Miami-Dade County and throughout Florida," the

company said.

"We will continue to defend our right to serve the state of Florida and

its local governments, and remain fully committed to complying with all

local, state and federal law, and dedicated to working with our partners

to provide outstanding service to each of our clients."

FDOT's attorney, Paul J. Martin, had argued that the state is allowed to

set parameters for how to spend public money. He also made a complicated

argument that the state law does not run afoul of federal law because

the Florida statute does not allow anything that U.S. law prohibits.

But Moore turned that argument on its head and noted that the state law

prohibits something the federal law allows: American companies to bid on

public contracts even if they are affiliated with companies doing work

in Cuba.

Monday's ruling allows Odebrecht to continue operating as it has been,

including negotiating with the Miami-Dade Aviation Department to develop

Airport City, a project that would bring hotels, office and retail to

Miami International Airport. The project has stalled because county

commissioners, objecting to Odebrecht's Cuba connection, were wary of

giving the firm another contract.

It is unclear how many other companies would be affected by the law in

addition to Odebrecht, the law's chief target.

The legislation, sponsored by two Republicans, state Rep. Michael Bileca

of Miami and Sen. Rene Garcia of Hialeah, drew little attention during

the annual lawmaking session earlier this year in Tallahassee. But after

it was approved, the Miami-Dade county attorney opined the law was

unenforceable. And business interests, including the Florida Chamber of

Commerce and the governments of Brazil and Canada, Florida's top two

trading partners, raised concerns that the law could slow foreign

investment in the state.

When Scott, the Republican, pro-business governor, traveled to Miami's

Freedom Tower to sign the law, he stirred controversy among

Cuban-American lawmakers by issuing a statement shortly afterward

suggesting the law was unconstitutional and could not be enforced

without federal action. He later backed away from that stance and said

his administration would defend the law against a likely legal challenge.

Still, one of Odebrecht's attorneys, James E. Moye, cited the governor's

signing statement as proof that the state knew the law is

unconstitutional. While the federal government allows states to withhold

public contracts from certain "scrutinized" companies that work in Iran

and Sudan, it does not authorize them to do the same with the two other

countries considered sponsors of terrorism, Cuba and Syria.

From the beginning of the hearing, Judge Moore hinted at how he would

rule in the case. He asked FDOT's attorney to speak first — even though

Odebrecht had filed the motion for the preliminary injunction — and

peppered him with questions.

Martin cited a 2006 Florida law prohibiting state colleges and

universities from using public funds to pay for travel to Cuba or other

states sponsors of terrorism. That law was upheld by a federal appellate

court, and the U.S. Supreme Court declined to take up the case on Monday.

But Moore said that case, which originated at Florida International

University, applied only narrowly to academic travel and other

educational purposes. He sided instead with Odebrecht's Moye, who cited

three other federal cases as precedent.

In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law

restricting businesses in the state from working with companies tied to

Myanmar. The same year, a federal judge overturned Miami-Dade County's

requirement that companies certify that they did not work in Cuba. And

in 2009, another federal judge ruled against a 2008 Florida law setting

increased fees and bonds for travel agencies specializing in trips to Cuba.

Garcia, the legislation's Senate sponsor, learned of the judge's ruling

from a Miami Herald reporter and said he was "very disappointed" —

particularly because the U.S. Supreme Court allowed the law in the FIU

case to stand.

"When we talk about education, that's about [restricting] public

dollars," he said. "I don't see any difference between that and what the

Cuba and Syria bill is doing."

http://www.miamiherald.com/2012/06/25/v-fullstory/2867901/miami-federal-judge-blocks-new.html


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