State Politics

Gov. Scott backs off boycott of companies doing business in Venezuela

Florida Gov. Rick Scott talks during the Venezuela freedom rally in Doral.

During a ‘freedom rally’ for Venezuela ,Gov. Rick Scott pushed to ban Floridians from doing business with all Maduro-friendly organizations in Venezuela.
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During a ‘freedom rally’ for Venezuela ,Gov. Rick Scott pushed to ban Floridians from doing business with all Maduro-friendly organizations in Venezuela.

Gov. Rick Scott will ask the Florida Cabinet next month to prohibit the state’s investment managers from doing something they already do not do: invest in companies or securities owned or controlled by the Venezuelan government.

The proposed resolution released by the governor’s office on Thursday stops short of advancing a bolder threat Scott had been making at public appearances as recently as last week when he vowed to boycott companies that “do business” with the Nicolás Maduro regime.

Instead, the vote on the resolution — scheduled for the Aug. 16 meeting of the State Board of Administration — will be a mostly symbolic gesture aimed at sending the message that Florida will not tolerate any business sympathetic to the Maduro regime going forward. The SBA oversees the Florida Retirement System and its $150 billion in assets.

“We currently do not maintain any investments owned by the Venezuelan government right now,” SBA spokesperson John Kuczwanski told the Herald/Times. The governor’s resolution will not change that but make sure it doesn’t change going forward.

Under the governor’s proposal, the SBA will be:

▪  Prohibited from investing in any securities issued by the government of Venezuela or any company that is majority owned by the government.

▪  Prohibited from taking a shareholder proxy vote that advocates or supports the Maduro regime.

▪  Prohibited from doing business with any financial institution or U.S. company which directly, or through a subsidiary, violates federal law by making a loan, extending credit, or makes purchases with the government of Venezuela.

“The atrocities happening at the hands of the brutal and oppressive Maduro regime are unspeakable,” Scott said in a press release detailing his proposal. “I have heard firsthand from Floridians about the need for change in Venezuela. Prohibiting the Florida State Board of Administration from making investments that support Nicolás Maduro is a big step in the right direction, and we must continue to find ways to bring freedom and democracy to Venezuela.”

Scott, who is expected to run for U.S. Senate next year, has been courting South Florida voters with tough talk on the Maduro government.

“Next month, at my next Cabinet meeting, I will be proposing a resolution that will say any organization that does business with the Maduro regime cannot do business with the State of Florida,” Scott proclaimed at a July 10 rally at the El Arepazo restaurant in Doral. The crowd cheered.

If he had followed through on his threatened boycott of companies that do business with the Maduro region, it would have affected companies like Goldman Sachs Asset Management, which purchased $2.8 billion in bonds in May from Venezuela’s state-run oil company, and companies like Delta Air Lines and McDonald’s, which still operate in the country.

Although the governor, attorney general and state chief financial officer act as the State Board of Administration, they need a state law to sell off large amounts of assets that could affect the profitability of the Florida Retirement System funds. Additionally, a 16-year-old U.S. Supreme Court ruling may bar them from telling state agencies to boycott companies that do business in Venezuela.

Read more: Gov. Scott’s tough talk on Venezuela may not turn into economic action

Goldman Sachs manages $478 million in funds in Florida’s Long Duration Portfolio, which totals $8.2 billion. The SBA said the company also manages $21 million in a 2004 fund, Distressed Managers II, and the SBA owns $147 million in Goldman Sachs securities that can be sold on the open market.

Goldman Sachs said in a statement last week that it purchased the Venezuelan bonds for its investment clients through a broker in the secondary market and the bonds were initially issued in 2014 by Petroleos de Venezuela.

Because the SBA has a fiduciary responsibility to keep the state pension fund healthy, it may not sell off large amounts of assets if that could affect the profitability of the fund — unless it is ordered to by law, Kuczwanski said, although investment managers have already flagged Venezuela as risky.

“We ensure we have a prudent investment strategy, and we would always look at any governments that are in turmoil,” he said.

State Sen. José Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat who has announced he is running for the congressional seat being vacated by Republican Ileana Ros-Lehtinen next year, has drafted legislation that would require Florida to divest investments that could affect Goldman Sachs and any “institution or company doing business with the government of Venezuela.”

Scott said in his news release Thursday that he “will work with the Florida Legislature during the next legislative session to take more action against Maduro and his gang of thugs.”

Meanwhile, President Donald Trump has promised “swift and strong economic actions” against Venezuela, including its oil sector, if it goes through with the July 30 vote to form a constituent assembly sought by Maduro.

Kuczwanski said that the SBA sees the ban on Venezuela investments similar to the 2007 Protecting Florida’s Investments Act that requires the SBA to refrain from buying securities and investments from foreign companies with business operations in Sudan and Iran involving the petroleum or energy sector, oil or mineral extraction, power production or military support activities.

“We see this operating very similarly to that prohibition,” he said.