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
News

OMG! Exercise can make skin (and butt) look…

A moderate exercise regime can turn back time and actually reverse the skin's aging process, according to new research. The study showed that a minimum…

News

Mets mascot Mr. Met target of Bill Clinton…

Mets mascot Mr. Met has told how he ended up in the crosshairs of a Secret Service sniper rifle. The man behind the Mr. Met…

Local

Oval oasis: Summer of fun kicks off this…

A bold partnership between the Fairmount Park Conservancy and the city's Parks and Recreation Department is kicking off this weekend with family activities re-activating this unused public space.

Local

African couple claiming misidentification in robbery case to…

At a bail hearing today for Vickson and Lorfu Korlewala, charged in the robbery of an 80-year-old woman, bail was reduced from $1 million total to $500,000.

Television

'Scandal' recap: Season 3, Episode 18, 'The Price…

Sally is Jesus, Olivia caused global warming, and Mellie's still drunk. Let's recap the Scandal finale. A church full of Washington insiders is about to…

Movies

Review: 'Transcendence' is not stupid but sometimes lacks…

The cyberthriller "Transcendence" explores artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and other ethical quandaries, but has too much ambition, if anything.

Television

Dick Wolf to bring fictionalized world of 'Law…

A&E has ordered a pilot called "D.O.A." from "Law and Order" mastermind Dick Wolf that will focus on real detectives reexamining cold cases. A trio…

Television

Shane West talks WGN America's 'Salem'

The actor on history lessons, a new network and showing his butt.

NHL

Rangers draw first blood against Flyers in Game…

Brad Richards and Derek Stepan scored power-play goals 47 seconds apart to lead the Rangers to a 4-1 win.

MLB

Jimmy Rollins is key to Phillies success

When John Kruk was asked about what the Phillies need to contend for a playoff berth, the ESPN analyst said Jimmy Rollins needs to play like a MVP again.

MLB

Ben Revere lifts Phillies to avoid sweep

Ben Revere came through with a two-out RBI single against Atlanta’s tough lefthander Alex Wood.

NBA

Season wrap: 76ers make the grade

The 76ers opened the 2013-14 season with a victory over the Miami Heat. The Sixers closed the season with a win at Miami.

Style

Light-up nail art syncs with phone

This Japanese technology syncs light-up nail art with your phone.

Wellbeing

Why is dance cardio taking off in NYC?

Instructors at some of the city's hottest classes explain why.

Travel

Earth Day travel in the Florida Keys

See why this eco-friendly destination deserves your attention.

Tech

Sorry, Facebook — FarmVille goes mobile with 'Country…

Zynga has released a version of the hit "FarmVille" tailored for smartphones and tablets in the hope of reaping a bumper crop of players.