Treasury stood behind music stars' cultural visit to Cuba
MIAMI — A visit by American pop star Beyonce and her husband, rapper Jay-Z, to Havana last week was a cultural trip that was fully licensed by the Treasury Department, a source familiar with the trip said on Monday.
The longstanding trade embargo against Cuba prevents most Americans from traveling to the communist-led island without a license granted by the government.
Two Cuban American members of Congress, both Republicans representing south Florida and supporters of a firm stance on Cuba, had asked the Treasury Department for information on what type of license the couple obtained for their trip.
Beyonce and Jay-Z celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary in Havana and were greeted by big crowds as they strolled through the Cuban capital. Cubans recognized the music industry power couple as celebrities despite the past half-century of ideological conflict that separates the two countries.
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.
Publicists for the couple did not return emails or phone calls seeking comment.
Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart questioned the authorization for the couple's trip, arguing that isolating Cuba is the best way to force it to change its one-party political system.
Ros-Lehtinen, long a fierce critic of the Cuban government, said she found it “very disconcerting that these two mega stars would go down to Cuba and vacation as if they were in a tropical paradise and not say one word about the brutality their hosts display against all pro-democracy activists.”
Diaz-Balart's office said he would not comment further until there was official confirmation of the license for Beyonce and Jay-Z's trip.
The Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which handles licenses for travel to Cuba, said it does not comment on individual cases. The office provides licenses to visit Cuba on a case-by-case basis for educational exchanges, and for programs to promote “people-to-people contact” and “contribute to the development of civil society in Cuba,” according to Treasury Department guidelines.
“It's hard to imagine a more people-to-people contact visit than the scenes witnessed last week on the streets of Havana with two of the United States biggest music stars wading through crowds of fans they never knew they had,” said John McAuliff, executive director for the Fund for Reconciliation and Development, an organization working to normalize U.S. relations with Cuba.
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