Unfortunately one of the new lessons from the campaign to impose an embargo on the South African Apartheid regime is that that since 2000 with the Supreme Court decision citing the Supremacy clause in Crosby versus National Foreign Trade Council which means that relations or trade with a foreign country is governed by the federal government and that state and local governments can no longer place their own sanctions on foreign regimes unless it is in accordance with federal government policy. In 2000 the Supreme Court forced Massachusetts to do business with companies that had done business with the military junta in Burma. According to constitutional scholar Sanford Levinson in the Fordham Law Review the Crosby decision compels state and local governments to cooperate with evil.
In recent days it appears that this sordid practice may be repeated in Florida where a Brazilian multinational is suing over a state law that bans companies that do business with the regimes in Cuba and Syria. The Miami Herald in a June 5, 2012 editorial stated that:
The U.S. Constitution does not give states the right to conduct their own foreign policy — indeed, imagine 50 states conducting their own foreign affairs; that would be disastrous. The Civil War clarified where “states’ rights” stop.The Miami Herald got it wrong, the history of the United States indicates just the opposite. Governors of states are considered subnational foreign policy actors pursuing commercial agreements on behalf of their respective states. Would the Miami Herald call on the governor of Florida along with other state and local officials not to pursue commercial opportunities for their respective state and local governments? Furthermore, the rights of states and local governments to impose restrictions on nefarious regimes and unjust practices has a long history. John Kline from Georgetown University in a paper titled "Continuing controversies over state and local foreign policy sanctions in the United States" exposes the inaccuracies in The Miami Herald's editorial:
Recent state and local government sanctions on business with Burma and certain Swiss banks renews a debate over foreign policy powers in federal systems that operate in an integrated global economy. International business promotion has become an accepted function of state and local governments. More controversial is the imposition of foreign policy sanctions, where economic involvement becomes a lever to pursue political goals rather than an objective in itself. When compared with past cases, including South Africa and the Arab boycott, recent state and local initiatives demonstrate both continuity and fresh departures in federalism's evolving adjustment to the global economy. These developments can be used to examine theoretical concepts such as constituent and multilayered diplomacy. They also argue for improved practical cooperation among the multiple and diverse actors engaged in foreign policy issues.That is to say that the tactics and strategies used by the anti-Apartheid movement to organize a grassroots campaign that obtained national sanctions against the South African government by first passing sanctions at the local and state level to build momentum nationally would be impossible today thanks to the already mentioned 2000 Supreme Court decision. Grassroots activists and US citizens have been stripped of that power while corporations in business with despicable and brutal regimes such as Burma, China, Cuba and Syria have been empowered.This is another example of the centralization of power in the central government that in fact undermines federalism,
Nevertheless citizens and activists can still impact federal policy via a successful strategy executed by the anti-Apartheid movement in the 1980s that overrode a presidential veto:
Our three-pronged strategy had worked: first, consult with grassroots activists and provide them with the grounds from which to press in congressional districts for the most principled position possible – in this case,complete disinvestments and embargo, second, work with willing national organizations to generate a lobbying presence on behalf of bold government action – maximum sanctions, in the case of apartheid – always creating pressure to move the middle to the left, third, engage congressional colleagues and educate them about the issues and the pathways for change.At the same time people power, one of the most potent tools in the arsenal of anti-apartheid activists is still available today despite the Supreme Court decision. During the struggle against Apartheid it had a huge impact:
Among the most sustained campaigns, involving national organizations as well as providing a target for local demonstrators, was the campaign to boycott Shell that paralleled campaigns in Europe directed at the same multinational company. Beginning with a sit-in by the Free South Africa Movement at the Shell offices in Washington, DC,159 the campaign gained support not only from the United Mine Workers, but also other unions, including the AFL-CIO trade union federation. And it tied the action to support of the National Union of Mineworkers in South Africa. Desmond Tutu joined the press conference launching the boycott, and churches joined actively in the coalition. The Interfaith Centre for Corporate Responsibility (ICCR) added Shell to its list of 12 key corporate ‘partners in apartheid’ targeted for divestment actions.The lesson here is clear a coordinated targeting of companies doing business with repressive regimes such as Cuba targeting them with boycotts, protests, sit-ins and peaceful invasions of said companies until they divest from the Castro regime. Its worked before and it can work again today.