MIAMI — A Florida law that bans state and local governments from doing business with firms with economic links to Cuba and Syria is unconstitutional, according to a lawsuit by a Coral Gables-based subsidiary of a Brazilian engineering conglomerate.
Odebrecht Construction Inc., which has been involved in more than $3.9 billion in state and local government contracts since 1990, contends in the lawsuit that only the federal government has the power to set U.S. foreign policy, not individual states. The measure was signed into law last month by Gov. Rick Scott and takes effect July 1.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in Miami federal court, also contends that the Florida-based Odebrecht subsidiary is "remote and distant" from another subsidiary working on a project to expand Cuba's port of Mariel. Under the law, that project could jeopardize Odebrecht's work in Florida. The law applies to projects worth $1 million or more.
"The Cuba amendment appears to penalize companies that do not themselves have business operations in Cuba if those companies have subsidiary corporations, parent corporations or sibling corporations that conduct business operations in Cuba," wrote Odebrecht's lawyers, who include former state Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero.
The Florida company and the one doing work in Cuba are subsidiaries of Brazil's Odebrecht S.A., which does engineering, construction and other work around the world.
The measure was pushed through the Legislature by two Republican lawmakers from Miami-Dade County. Even as he signed it amid a fanfare before a host of Cuban-American politicians and business leaders at Miami's Freedom Tower, Scott himself expressed doubts that it would survive a constitutional challenge.
In a signing letter, Scott wrote that Congress would have to pass and the president sign a law allowing states to impose such sanctions themselves. After that letter sparked an uproar among South Florida's Cuban-American community, Scott insisted he supported the law and that he would defend it in court.
Scott's office had no immediate comment Tuesday on the lawsuit. The U.S. government has in place a number of economic sanctions against Cuba.
Odebrecht, meanwhile, said it intends to bid on $3.3 billion in state transportation work this year alone — bids that its lawyers say could be nullified by the law. The high-profile projects Odebrecht has worked on include Miami's American Airlines Arena, the new football stadium at Florida International University, the Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami and the Nassau Sound Bridge in Jacksonville.
The lawsuit asks U.S. District Judge K. Michael Moore to declare the law unconstitutional and block any attempt by the state to prohibit Odebrecht from bidding on government work. No hearings have yet been scheduled.
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