Odebrecht sees the project as a win-win for itself and the county. It gets to build a massive new development on public land; the county would get new revenue from land leases, revenue sharing and the new Airport City businesses that would pay taxes.
Odebrecht had hoped the project would be underway by now. But instead of breaking ground, Odebrecht has run into roadblock after roadblock.
Because its an airport project, the Federal Aviation Administration needed to sign off on the proposed lease agreement with the county and certify that there was no appreciable environmental impact. After a back-and-forth on questions, the FAA approvals finally came in January and March more than a year longer than Odebrecht had anticipated.
But well before that, the project hit a wall when politicians became aware that Companhia de Obras em Infraestrutura, an affiliate of Odebrecht USAs parent company, was working on a project to revamp the Cuban port of Mariel. The Brazilian company also has signed a 10-year joint production agreement with the Cuban government to operate a sugar mill and help revive the countrys ailing sugar industry.
In a letter to the Miami Herald editorial board, Mario Claver-Carone, director of the pro-embargo U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC, accused Odebrecht of seducing Miami-Dade County commissioners for more than a decade to win contracts all over the county. Companies that choose to do business with Cuba, he said, shouldnt also profit from Cuban-Americans in Floridas free market.
Politics is politics anywhere in the world. We are apolitical, Neves said. We think the economic benefits for Miami-Dade County would outweigh any concerns about Cuba.
State legislators also got into the act, approving a law in March 2012 that appeared to target Odebrecht. It prohibited state and local governments from hiring companies with business ties to Cuba for any work worth at least $1 million. It was set to take effect July 1, 2012.
Odebrecht USA quickly sued in federal court in Miami, contesting the law. The Coral Gables-based company said it has never done business in Cuba and contended the Florida law was unconstitutional and unenforceable because it set foreign policy. A federal appeals court ruled in favor of the company in May, and the state of Florida said last month it wont contest the ruling and the law wont be enforced.
Odebrecht USA doesnt report to the same division as the one overseeing the projects in Cuba. Neves boss works for Odebrecht Industrial.
Industry sources say the Mariel project is nearing completion. But Companhia de Obras em Infraestrutura has a confidentiality agreement with the Cuban government that precludes Odebrecht from providing any details about the work, said a company spokesman in Brazil.
The powerful Miami-based Latin Builders Association opposes Odebrechts bid to build Airport City. Bernie Navarro, LBA president, wrote to executives of industry associations in late March opposing Odebrechts involvement in Airport City and urging solidarity with our brothers in Cuba. Odebrecht had invited construction trade organizations to attend an April 1 information session on the project.
I can assure you that the LBA will not help Odebrecht in their continuous pursuit of Airport City, he said in the letter. We cant allow Odebrecht to traffic with our suffering. You do business here or you can do business in Communist Cuba. It is a choice. It cant be both ways.