Jay-Z and Beyonce celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary last week by taking a trip to Cuba—a trip that provoked congressional outrage. How romantic! How romantic!
Diplomatic relations between the United States and Cuba have been cut off since Fidel Castro's Cuban Revolution in 1959. Since then, American travel to Cuba has been severely restricted. So was it Mr. and Mrs. Carter’s fame and fortune that made their trip possible? Apparently not. Average American citizens can travel to Cuba if the travel qualifies as a “people-to-people” exchange for religious, academic, cultural, or journalistic reasons.
Reuters cites a source familiar with the Beyonce and Jay-Z trip to confirm that it was fully licensed by the Treasury Department.
The source told Reuters that the trip included visits with Cuban artists and musicians, as well as several nightclubs where live music was performed, and some of the city's best privately run restaurants, known as "paladares."
The visit was planned as a "people-to-people" cultural visit and involved no meetings with Cuban officials, or typical tourist activity such as trips to the beach, the source said. Even a walk around the Old City of Havana, mobbed by crowds of excited Cuban spectators, was led by Miguel Coyula, one of the city's leading architects.
To travel to Cuba from the U.S., you must get a license from the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control and go with a licensed operator. You can’t hit the beach and your trip can’t include any tourist activities. To receive a license, you must meet certain qualifications, such as visiting “close relatives” or conducting journalism, academic research, or certain business activities.
The American economic embargo against Cuba has been in place for decades. President Obama lifted some travel restrictions in 2011 that resulted in Treasury granting people-to-people licenses for direct trips to Cuba. But many people have long skirted restrictions by going through a third country such as Canada.
Reports of the Beyonce and Jay-Z trip raised some eyebrows among Cuban-American lawmakers Washington; in a letter to OFAC, Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart wrote, “Despite the clear prohibition against tourism in Cuba, numerous press reports described the couple’s trip as tourism, and the Castro regime touted it as such in its propaganda.” They emphasized, “These restrictions are in place because the Cuban dictatorship is one of four U.S.-designated state sponsors of terrorism with one of the world’s most egregious human-rights records. Cuba’s tourism industry is wholly state-controlled; therefore, U.S. dollars spent on Cuban tourism directly fund the machinery of oppression that brutally represses the Cuban people.”
Cuban-American Sen. Marco Rubio is also unhappy about the trip, and took the opportunity to make a rap pun:
Jay-Z and Beyonce received loads of attention while walking around parts of Havana. But they aren’t the first American celebrities to visit the Communist island. Benicio del Toro, Bill Murray, Robert Duvall, and James Caan visited in 2009, with del Toro there to receive an award and the other three visiting for a research project, according to Reuters.