Florida may drop ties to businesses linked to Venezuela

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Florida may drop ties to businesses linked to Venezuela

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

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TALLAHASSEE, Florida (AP) — Amid an escalating political crisis in Venezuela, Florida may sever its connections to businesses that support the South American country's current government.

Governor Rick Scott on Wednesday announced that he will ask the trustees of Florida's pension plan to go along with a proposal that targets businesses helping the regime of President Nicolas Maduro.

He and other Florida politicians, including US Senator Marco Rubio, have been highly critical of Maduro in the past few months.

Scott announced the plan the same day that pro-government militias wielding wooden sticks and metal bars stormed congress and began attacking opposition lawmakers during a special session coinciding with Venezuela's independence day.

"Floridians stand with the people of Venezuela as they fight for their freedom, and as a state, we must not provide any support for Maduro and his thugs," Scott said in a statement.

In the past three months, security forces have clashed with protesters who accuse the government of trying to establish a dictatorship by jailing foes, pushing aside the opposition-controlled legislature and rewriting the constitution to avoid fair elections.

The Scott administration did not provide any details of the new proposal but, depending on its wording, it could force the state to stop doing business with Goldman Sachs and others companies tied to Venezuela.

The trustees of the State Board of Administration, a panel that includes Scott as well as Attorney General Pam Bondi and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, will consider the plan in August. The trustees oversee the Florida Retirement System, the state-run pension plan worth roughly US$150 billion.

Goldman Sachs earlier this year acquired US$2.8 billion in bonds at a steeply discounted price that had been initially issued by the Venezuela-run oil company. The bank manages some of the state's investments, and the state owns stock in the company. Goldman Sachs did not respond to questions about Scott's proposal, but has previously issued statements saying it bought the bonds through a broker.

Scott's move came just hours after State Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat, said he would file legislation for the 2018 legislative session that would force the state to drop its investments in any companies doing business with the Maduro regime. Rodriguez called Scott's announcement "good news."

"We have a choice on where to invest funds and who to help manage those funds," Rodriguez said. "If we have a choice and a company like Goldman Sachs has decided to help prop up the Maduro regime, why would we want taxpayers to participate in that?"

Florida already has laws that prohibit the state from investing in companies that do business in Cuba, Iran and Sudan. And last year the State Board of Administration was ordered to divest from companies that boycott Israel.

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