County to ask Congress to examine Arabs' takeover of port
By Suzy Valentine
As President Bush announced Tuesday that he would veto efforts to block an Arab takeover of the Port of Miami and five other US seaports, Miami-Dade County commissioners expressed discomfort over the deal.
The commission's concerns resulted in a vote Tuesday encouraging Congress to examine a transaction that would transfer operational power from British firm Peninsular and Oriental to Dubai Ports World, a company controlled by the United Arab Emirates government.
The future of seaports in Baltimore, New Jersey, New Orleans, New York and Philadelphia also hang in the balance.
"I'd like to direct the county attorney's office to determine the county's options regarding our seaport," said Commissioner Sally Heyman, "and sale of the security and shipping operations to the United Arab Emirates business. We have Congress people (Reps. Mark Foley and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen) that are down here today to recognize the interests of Florida and our seaport.
"The governors of New York and New Jersey are going on the record to oppose it," she said. "The federal government has obligations regarding security operations arising from that sale."
"We need to hold meetings to determine the security of our port," said
Commissioner Dorrin Rolle. "I'd urge my colleagues to support that."
A meeting next month could provide a forum for further discussion of the issue.
"We now have a seat on the national council and a vote on national security/emergency management," Ms. Heyman said. "That committee is meeting the first week of March. We need something to take to Washington, DC, as a position."
While Commissioner Carlos Gimenez expressed distaste over foreign control of the seaport, Chairman Joe Martinez said his "main concern is the employment of workers."
"I would like if we could have the port people here," said Commissioner Jose "Pepe" Diaz, "because maybe I am getting mixed messages on this, but I want to make sure that I understand correctly that it is only a portion of the company that is being sold. I have a lot of questions on this issue. I don't understand what the issue really is."
He said scrutiny of many businesses would uncover affiliations that people would find distasteful.
"Look at the majority of companies out there providing security," said Mr. Diaz. "Follow the corporate tree and see where it ends up. I need to ask questions of our port people. When I am being called by my constituents who are nervous because the radio stations are blasting this all over the place and saying our ports are going to be vulnerable to terrorists, I have a problem with that."
In a separate submission at the same session, a representative from the county's Jay Malina International Trade Consortium spoke of a pending alliance with an Arab community.
Walter Loy, chairman and dean of the Sister Cities Coordinating Council, told the commission a relationship with a city in Sudan was among partnerships in the offing - a report that drew no response.