Thu, Jun 07, 2012 - Page 7 News List

Company sues Florida over ban on Cuba, Syria

Reuters, MIAMI

The US subsidiary of Brazilian construction and engineering conglomerate Odebrecht has filed a lawsuit challenging a recently signed Florida law barring local governments from hiring companies that do business in Cuba or Syria.

The lawsuit, filed on Monday in Miami federal court, claims the measure is “unconstitutional and unenforceable” and argues the federal government, not states, has the authority to enact laws involving foreign policy.

Signed by Florida Governor Rick Scott last month, the law drew strong backing in the state’s Republican-led legislature, particularly from Cuban-American politicians in Miami who argued Florida tax dollars should not be used to support dictatorships.

Scott later came under heavy criticism after acknowledging the law would likely be difficult to implement without federal approval, but he vowed to defend it against any legal challenges.

Raoul Cantero, a Miami-based lawyer representing Odebrecht, said the firm filed the lawsuit hours after being notified by Florida’s Department of Transportation that the state plans to enforce the law.

“Our view is it is illegal,” he said.

Set to go into effect on July 1, the law prohibits state and local governments from awarding contracts of US$1 million or more to any company that conducts business in Cuba or Syria. Both countries are designated by the US as state sponsors of terrorism.

The law appeared to target Odebrecht USA, the South Florida-based subsidiary of the Brazilian firm, which has another subsidiary involved in a major upgrade to Cuba’s Port of Mariel near the capital, Havana.

Lane Wright, a Scott spokesman, declined to comment, saying the governor’s office had not seen a copy of the lawsuit.

Odebrecht argues in the lawsuit that federal regulations “provide the federal Executive Branch with significant flexibility regarding the implementation and application of sanctions directed at Cuba, but do not authorize states to enforce their own sanctions.”

The US subsidiary also claims that it is “remote and distant from, and has no contact with, the corporate entity involved in the expansion of the Cuban Port of Mariel or any business operations in Cuba of any kind.”

Odebrecht USA provides construction and eng’ineering services, focusing largely on public infrastructure and transportation projects. The company has been awarded 35 contracts with Florida state agencies and local governments since 1990 worth US$3.9 billion, it said in the lawsuit.

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