Odebrecht USA, the U.S. unit of the same-named Brazilian business group, said Tuesday that it filed a lawsuit against a Florida state department concerning the law prohibiting Florida public agencies from contracting with firms that maintain commercial links with Cuba.
The lawsuit filed on Monday in a Miami court alleges that the law cannot be complied with and is "unconstitutional" because it sets foreign policy, a function that the courts have ruled belongs exclusively to the federal government.
"Odebrecht USA filed suit in United States Federal District Court against the Florida Department of Transportation, simply to defend our right to serve the State of Florida and its local governments," said the firm in a communique sent to Efe on Tuesday.
The U.S. unit of the Brazilian multinational said that "Odebrecht USA does not engage, and never has engaged, in business operations in Cuba." However, it went on to say that the parent company, Odebrecht S.A. has "worldwide operations in more than 20 countries, including Cuba."
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.
- Odebrecht's lawyers
"We strongly believe that this new Florida law violates the United States Constitution," the firm's U.S. office said.
The law was signed on May 1 by Florida Gov. Rick Scott at a ceremony attended by lawmakers of Cuban origin and representatives of Cuban exile organizations, as well as by the legislators who sponsored the bill: Rene Garcia and Michael Bileca.
The text, which was approved by the Florida legislative branch almost unanimously, received - however - much criticism from Canadian and Brazilian authorities, as well as from the state's business organizations.
Nevertheless, the controversial law requires Washington's approval before it can enter into force, something that Scott did not say at the signing ceremony but clarified in a communique released later.
The law, which would enter into force on July 1, prohibits the state's public agencies and departments from awarding contracts valued at $1 million or more to firms doing business with Cuba, something that could affect the Brazilian multinational, a giant in areas like engineering, construction, petrochemicals and energy with operations and business dealings all over the world.
Odebrecht USA is carrying out important infrastructure projects in Florida and says in its lawsuit that is complying with the U.S. embargo against Cuba and does not have any contact with the company that works for the Brazilian group in the Cuban port of Mariel.
The firm said it regretted having to file a lawsuit against a public agency - "particularly one with which we have worked so successfully in the past" - and it reiterated its commitment to "complying with all local, state and federal" laws.
"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.
But, it went on to say, this law "targets U.S. companies (such as Odebrecht USA) that have foreign affiliates operating in Cuba."
"For more than 21 years, Odebrecht USA, which has its headquarters in Coral Gables (a municipality in Greater Miami), has been creating jobs in Florida and helping improve the state's infrastructure and public facilities," the firm said.
It went on to express regret over the approval of a law "whose intent is to restrict the right of all Florida state and local governmental agencies to contract with U.S. companies that engage in ... or have affiliates engaged in business operations" on the communist island.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.