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

Is #JusticeForAvaLynn a case of bullying?

On Saturday, the hashtag #JusticeForAvaLynn became one of the trending topics on Twitter. Users circulated the above photo of 5-year-old AvaLynn, posted by her mother…

International

Terrorism could spread to US and Europe in…

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah said terrorism would soon spread to Europe and the United States unless it is quickly dealt with in the Middle East,…

National

Ex-Bitcoin official to plead guilty to Silk Road…

Bitcoin entrepreneur Charlie Shrem has reached a plea deal to resolve U.S. charges that he engaged in a scheme to sell over $1 million of…

International

China's army changes tactics to prepare for war…

Chinese President Xi Jinping has said China will spur military innovation and called on the army to create a new strategy for "information warfare" as…

Gossip

Joan Rivers on life support: Report

TMZ reports that comedian Joan Rivers has been placed on life support, "completely reliant on machines to stay alive." Rivers has been hospitalized since she…

Movies

What's new on Netflix in September

September has a supernatural theme for Netflix. UFO "documentaries" and the survivalist reality series "Doomsday Preppers" are among the new series coming to the online…

Going Out

'Friends' coffeehouse Central Perk coming to NYC —…

"Friends" is coming back for a one-off special: "The One with the Free Coffee." Warner Bros. is bringing a pop-up replica of Central Perk, the…

Movies

Interview: 'As Above, So Below' directors: 5 ways…

The fraternal directors of the found footage horror "As Above, So Below" dish on the best ways to frighten the bejesus out of audiences.

NFL

3 things we learned in the Giants preseason…

The final score didn’t matter — a 16-13 win by the Giants — but it would’ve been nice to finally see Big Blue’s new-look offense get on track.

NFL

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots, 49ers start…

NFL Power Rankings: Seahawks, Broncos, Patriots start at top

U.S. Soccer

5 facts about new England captain Wayne Rooney

Manchester United striker Wayne Rooney was named as the new England captain by coach Roy Hodgson on Thursday.

NFL

Jets vs. Eagles: 3 things to watch

A win on Thursday night at the Eagles would give the Jets a 3-1 record and just their second winning preseason under head coach Rex Ryan.

Wellbeing

This Week in Health: Lesbians, men most likely…

Lesbians, men most likely to achieve orgasm Location: U.S. Study subjects: 2,850 people Results: Whether you find it shocking or not, a new study reports that…

Wellbeing

VIDEO: Still not wearing sunscreen? You will after…

Sunscreen is possibly the most often repeated - and ignored - piece of skincare advice. But Thomas Leveritt took a different tactic. With a short…

Food

Twitter used to track down sources of food…

When Chicago health officials saw Twitter users complaining about local food poisoning episodes, they reached out on Twitter to those users and often ended up…

Style

Trend: White hot on the 2014 Emmy's red…

White was one of the big trends on the Emmy's red carpet.