In an interesting mix of economics, politics, and foreign policy, Republican Governor Rick Scott recently signed into law a bill that prohibits the State of Florida from entering into contracts with companies that do business with Cuba or Syria. The law is in large part directed at the Brazilian engineering and construction company Odebrecht, which has state contracts throughout Florida, but also does business in Cuba. The legislation is an example of the continuing political power of South Florida’s Cuban American community. Although many have anticipated its waning power more than fifty years since the Cuban Diaspora brought on by Fidel Castro’s assumption of power, this action should be seen as a sign that the Cuban community is still a potent political force.
Hispanics are the fastest growing group in the State of Florida but within that group, Cuban Americans are less than a majority. Nevertheless they are united, active, and effective in achieving political goals. Florida’s Marco Rubio hails from this community, and could be beneficiary of the group’s political strength if he is chosen as Mitt Romney’s running mate. Other state and local governments have attempted to address foreign policy issues through contracting bans. Courts have generally struck down such enactments as being preempted to the Federal government by the U.S. Constitution. (See Crosby v. National Foreign Trade Council, 530 U.S. 363, (2000), involving a Massachusetts ban on the awarding of state contracts to companies that did business with Burma.) A recent case in Florida, however, involving a law that prohibited State-funded universities from paying for travel to Cuba, was upheld by the United States Court of Appeals for the 11th Circuit, Faculty Senate of Fla. Int'l Univ. v. Winn, 616 F.3d 1206 (11th Cir. Fla. 2010). It was that decision that emboldened the Florida legislature to enact the ban against companies that do business in Cuba and Syria.
While it will take some time for this matter to be resolved in the Courts, the real message of this law may be the strength of this community to help decide a close election for the Presidency in the State of Florida and, given its large number of electoral votes, the nation as a whole.