State Politics

Lawmaker seeks seal of approval ban for Cuba exports

TALLAHASSEE — Continuing his perennial campaign against the Castro regime, Miami Republican Rep. David Rivera wants to prohibit the state from a distributing a “virtual stamp of approval’’ on goods being exported from Florida to Cuba.

The so-called “certificate of free sale’’ is a written document that guarantees a product that claims to be manufactured in Florida really is manufactured there and isn’t a bootlegged product. It’s akin to a certificate of authenticity that comes with a signed baseball — and sent with goods exported around the world.

Rivera argues such goods with the certificates shouldn’t head to the Communist nation, or any other country that the federal government accuses of sponsoring terrorism — a list that also includes Syria, Iran and Sudan. Rivera’s bill has cleared two committees with no debate, including the House government operations committee Tuesday.

“This is a priority for me,” said Rivera, who is running for Congress. “If there is one certificate of export distributed, it’s too many.”

Last year, state data show, there were two. Both went to Arnold’s Food Distributors Corporation Tampa, which sent ham croquettes, Italian bread crumbs, salad dressing and vegetarian tamales to the island.

The state Department of Agriculture issues about 1,300 of the certificates each year.

“There’s not a lot of trade going on there, as you can imagine,” said Terence McElory, spokesman for the state’s agriculture department which regulates the issuance of the certificates.

While the policy impact of Rivera’s proposal is a little hazy, the politics seem clear: Rivera is seeking support for his congressional run in a district that is heavily Cuban-

American.

He is vying to replace U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who is hoping to swap his seat for the one being vacated by his retiring brother, U.S. Rep. Lincoln Diaz-Balart. The brothers have consistently taken a hard line against Cuba.

Inside the Capitol, Rivera — the budget chief in the House — has done the same. In 2008, he spearheaded a bill that imposed sky-high fees for travel agents booking flights to Cuba.

That bill became law, but later was swatted down by a state court.

“I’ve always made sure to represent the views of my constituents on issues that affect their lives,” Rivera said.

Rivera said he thinks his latest effort shouldn’t trigger legal disputes because companies aren’t required to have the certificate to export the items.

But more than 90 percent of those seeking to import Florida goods ask for the certificates, according to the legislative staff analysis. If the bill passes, it could make products less marketable if importers couldn’t verify they came from Florida. In the case of Cuba, that could reduce the flow of goods from Florida even more.

That suits Rivera fine. In the past, Rivera said, the state has provided certificates for items such as drink mix concentrate, ketchup and mayonnaise to get to Cuba.

“These are not items in the ration book,” Rivera said. “These things are for tourists. It’s particularly offensive that many of the products receiving this stamp are products that would never reach the people.”

  Comments