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Federal appeals court blocks Florida law barring contracts with Cuba, Syria businesses

The US Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit [official website] on Monday upheld [opinion, PDF] a lower court ruling blocking enforcement of a Florida law [materials] that denies government contracts to companies that do business in Cuba or Syria. The law was challenged [JURIST report] last year by Odebrecht Construction [corporate website, in Portuguese], a Brazilian company that would be affected by the legislation. A judge for the US District Court for the Southern District of Florida [official website] temporarily blocked the law last June, and the state of Florida appealed [JURIST reports]. The Eleventh Circuit upheld the ruling:

After careful review, we conclude that Odebrecht has demonstrated a substantial likelihood of success on its claim that the Cuba Amendment violates the Supremacy Clause of the Constitution under principles of conflict preemption. ... The Cuba Amendment conflicts directly with the extensive and highly calibrated federal regime of sanctions against Cuba promulgated by the legislative and executive branches over almost fifty years. The Supremacy Clause of the Constitution "provides a clear rule that federal law 'shall be the supreme Law of the Land.'" ... The Cuba Amendment differs dramatically from the federal regime as to the entities covered, the actions triggering sanctions, and the penalties imposed. The Amendment also overrides the nuances of the federal law and weakens the President's ability "to speak for the Nation with one voice in dealing" with Cuba. ... In addition, Odebrecht has demonstrated the other equitable requirements that warrant a preliminary injunction: Odebrecht would have suffered irreparable harm absent the injunction, the balance of harms strongly favored the injunction, and the injunction did not disserve the public interest.
Odebrecht could now ask the lower court to make the injunction permanent [Miami Herald report], or Florida could seek a ruling on the merits.

Cuba-US relations have improved in recent years. In 2011 US President Barack Obama [official profile] ordered [JURIST report] the Departments of State, Treasury and Homeland Security [official websites] to take steps to ease restrictions on travel and remittances to Cuba. The new regulations were expected to allow greater travel from the US to Cuba for religious and educational purposes, the transfer of up to $2000 per year to non-family members in Cuba so long as they are not senior government or Communist Party leaders, and all US international airports to service charter flights between the two countries. In 2009 Obama ordered the lifting of travel restrictions and restrictions on money transfers [JURIST report] between Cuban-Americans and their families in Cuba in 2009. Obama also ordered that US telecommunications companies be allowed to work within Cuba to facilitate communication between families split between the two countries. The plan was put forward as not only necessary for the interests of the families, but also as way to bolster a democratic movement within Cuba.

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