Source: Beyonce, Jay-Z Cuba visit had U.S. Treasury Department OK after all

U.S. singer Beyonce (L) and her husband rapper Jay-Z walk as they leave their hotel in Havana. Credit: Reuters
Beyonce and Jay-Z visited Havana on a trip that caused some controversy.
Credit: Reuters

A visit by Beyonce and rapper husband Jay-Z to Havana last week was a cultural trip that was fully licensed by the Treasury Department, a source familiar with the itinerary said Monday.

The longstanding trade embargo against Cuba prevents most Americans from traveling to the communist-led island without a license granted by the U.S. government.

Three Cuban-American members of Congress, all Republicans from Miami and supporters of a firm stance on Cuba, have asked the Treasury Department to look into the licensing of the trip, prompting officials to seek more information from the organizers.

Beyonce and Jay-Z celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary in Havana and were greeted by big crowds as they strolled through the Cuban capital. The music industry power couple were instantly recognized 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. 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.

Publicists for the couple did not return emails or phone calls seeking comment.

Beyonce and Jay-Z were the latest American stars, joining actors Bill Murray, Sean Penn and James Caan, to visit the Caribbean island in the past few years. But the pair were the first to cause such a stir everywhere they went.

The couple arrived in Havana unannounced for a four-day visit Wednesday on a flight from Miami. But word of their presence spread like wildfire, by text messaging and word of mouth.

Beyonce, who sang at President Barack Obama’s inauguration for his second term in January, was instantly recognized when she and Jay-Z, and their mothers, dined at La Guarida, the city’s top privately run restaurant, on their first night.

The next day a crowd of several thousand people swarmed around them in Old Havana during a walk-about.

They also visited a children’s theater group and several clubs where they heard live music, and occasionally took to the dance floor. On Friday, they toured Cuba’s top art school and met with some young artists.

Government propaganda

U.S. Reps Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart questioned the couple’s trip, saying it was being used for Cuban government propaganda. Ros-Lehtinen, long a fierce critic of the Cuban government, said it was “very disconcerting that these two megastars 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.”

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio said the Obama administration’s cultural exchange programs “have been abused by tourists.”

If the Treasury Department had licensed the trip, “the Obama Administration should explain exactly how trips like these comply with U.S. law and regulations governing travel to Cuba,” Rubio said.

The Cuban government was unaware of the participants on the trip until shortly before they departed for Cuba, the source told Reuters, adding that the Cuban media made no official mention of the pair while they were in Havana, at the request of the singers.

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which handles licenses for travel to Cuba, said it does not comment on individual cases.

OFAC provides licenses to visit Cuba on a case-by-case basis for educational exchanges, and for programs that promote “people-to-people contact” and “contribute to the development of civil society in Cuba,” according to Treasury Department guidelines. Tourism is specifically prohibited by the guidelines, it states.

“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.

He described the couple’s program as “characteristic of licensed trips undertaken by thousands of Americans every year.”

While it has kept the embargo in place, the Obama administration has eased restrictions on travel to Cuba for academic, religious or cultural programs.

“People-to-people” visits, first promoted under President Bill Clinton in the 1990s, but reined in under President George W. Bush, have been revived by the Obama administration to encourage more contact between Americans and Cubans, separated by just 90 miles of ocean, but more than half a century of ideological differences.

A number of U.S. firms are sponsoring Cuba trips, ranging from National Geographic to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York to the American Automobile Association, resulting in a steadily growing stream of Americans to the island.

Only licensed travelers and Cuban-Americans visiting relatives on the island are allowed to board special charter planes from Miami for the 50-minute flight to Cuba.

Some U.S. citizens dodge those requirements by traveling to Cuba via third countries. Cuba does not stamp the passports of Americans who visit Cuba, making it easy to avoid detection.

Criminal penalties for violating OFAC regulations range up to 10 years in prison and $250,000 in individual fines.



News
Entertainment
Sports
Lifestyle
National

Pioneers for domestic violence push on

Reporter was commissioned to write this in-depth article. Two decades have passed since the O.J. Simpson trial captivated the country. But in the 20 years…

Local

Newest java joint in bastion of hipness is…

Little may represent the change the neighborhood is undergoing right now like the arrival of the first Starbucks. The chain which is ubiquitous in Manhattan, opened a Williamsburg store at…

National

Black and white are the new orange at…

By Brendan O'Brien(Reuters) - Black and white are the new orange in a Michigan county where the sheriff has made a wardrobe change for jail…

National

Traps set after reports of giant snake on…

New Jersey animal control workers have set traps to snare a reported 20-foot-long serpent slithering through the waters of Lake Hopatcong.

Music

Avey Tare's Slasher Flicks more accessible than Animal…

Believe it or not, Avey Tare — the man in the mustachioed mask pictured here in the pool of blood — may have made the poppiest music of his career.

Entertainment

‘The Leftovers’ recap: Season 1, Episode 4, ‘B.J.…

Last week’s episode of “The Leftovers” was apparently a fluke, because this week’s episode returns to focusing on the Garveys and it is so boring.…

Movies

Interview: Luc Besson says 'Lucy' is very different…

Filmmaker Luc Besson talks about his new film "Lucy," how it's different than "Limitless" and his crazy first conversation with Egyptian actor Amr Waked.

Music

Weezer releases first new song since 2010

Weezer releases "Back to the Shack," their first new song in almost six years.

NFL

'Vicktory dogs' travel road to rehabilitation seven years…

Of the dozens of dogs groomed by Bad Newz Kennels, 48 were rescued and 22 of the pit bull terriers have emerged at Best Friends Animal Society.

MLB

Yankees looking at trade for Cliff Lee, according…

Yankees looking at trade for Cliff Lee, according to report

NFL

Giants lineman Chris Snee to retire: Reports

The Giants report to training camp on Tuesday, but Chris Snee may not be there when they do.

NBA

Carmelo Anthony talks about his charity work in…

As he is used to doing every year, NBA All-Star Carmelo Anthony is going to visit Puerto Rico to do work for his foundation.

Tech

RocketSkates let users roll with a motor

Los Angeles company Acton has raised funds on Kickstarter to roll out a nifty alternative – motor-powered "RocketSkates."

Tech

Knicks star Carmelo Anthony becomes a tech entrepreneur

He's been an All-Star, an Olympian, and a celebrity spokesperson. Now NBA player Carmelo Anthony is adding the position "tech entrepreneur" to his resume. Along…

Tech

Ulises 1 is the world's first singing satellite

A group of artists and engineers in Mexico have unveiled Ulises 1, the world's first opera-singing satellite.

Home

Wallscape on a budget

Skip the wallpaper and ombre an accent wall instead.