Friday, July 20, 2018
Politics

Rick Scott proposes business ban on groups that support Venezuela

Gov. Rick Scott wants to pass a law prohibiting Florida from doing business with any organization that supports the Venezuelan government even though a similar measure related to Cuba and Syria was declared unconstitutional.

This week, making reference to Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro, Scott wrote in a prepared statement:

"On Venezuela Independence Day, we stand in solidarity with the opposition to the brutal Maduro regime, whose crimes against his own people continue daily. … This is unacceptable behavior that Florida will not tolerate."

The trustees of the State Board of Administration, a panel that includes Scott as well as Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, will consider the plan in August. The trustees oversee the Florida Retirement System, the state-run pension plan worth roughly $150 billion.

The proposal could force the state to stop doing business with Goldman Sachs. The bank earlier this year bought $2.8 billion in bonds from Venezuela's state-run oil company at a steeply discounted price. Goldman Sachs manages some of Florida's investments, and the state owns stock in the bank.

But that assumes Scott's proposal passes legal muster. In 2012 the state passed what was referred to as the "Cuba Amendment" that banned contractors with business ties to Cuba or Syria from bidding on public contracts.

Coral Gables-based Odebrecht Construction took that amendment to federal court.

Its Brazilian parent company Odebrecht SA had foreign subsidiaries involved in a Cuban construction project. Under the Cuba amendment, the company would have been blocked from bidding on Florida Department of Transportation contracts worth up to $1.8 billion.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals in Atlanta found the measure unconstitutional in 2013 because it usurped federal powers. The Florida Department of Transportation agreed to enter a permanent injunction against enforcing provisions of the amendment, but the unenforceable amendment is still listed as a law.

Scott did succeed this year in preventing Florida ports from entering into memorandums of understanding with Cuba by threatening to pull state funds.

Scott said he will provide more details of his Venezuela proposal before the August 16 Cabinet meeting.

One thing is for sure — Venezuela is in chaos.

The economy is on the brink of collapse. Protesters are being beaten and killed by Venezuelan law enforcement and military. And on July 30, Venezuela will elect 500 members to a national Constituent Assembly tasked with rewriting the country's 1999 Constitution.

Those opposed to Venezuela's socialist system fear a new constitution will be reworked to keep the ruling party in power despite Maduro's approval rating of around 20 percent.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. Contact Paul Guzzo at [email protected]

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