Reporting Shannon Carlin
UPDATE: Today (April 9), it was reported that an unnamed official from the U.S. Treasury Department confirmed that Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s trip to Cuba was “fully licensed.”
The two, who arrived in Cuba from Miami, were there on a “people-to-people” cultural visit, a license that President Obama enacted in 2011 to make it easier for Americans to visit the country legally. While there the couple visited with Cuban musicians and artists including young artists from Cuba’s top art school. Throughout their trip, including a walk through the Old City of Havana, Miguel Coyula, one of the city’s leading architects, accompanied them. According to the unnamed official, Bey and Jay’s trip did not include “meetings with Cuban officials or typical tourist activity such as trips to the beach.”
In conjunction with their five-year marriage anniversary, Beyoncé and Jay-Z took a trip to Cuba last week to see the sites and smoke a few cigars. Now government officials are investigating the couple’s trip to the Communist-ruled country to see if they violated the United States’ 51-year embargo that prohibits American citizens from visiting the country for purely tourist reasons.
U.S. Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, both Republican members of congress who represent districts in south Florida, have asked the U.S. Treasury Department for information on what type of license the two celebrities obtained for the trip.
In a letter to Adam Szubin, the director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control, they ask for “what purpose” Beyoncé and Jay-Z gave for their trip and “who approved such travel.”
“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,” the letter said. “We represent a community of many who have been deeply and personally harmed by the Castro regime’s atrocities, including former political prisoners and the families of murdered innocents.”
The letter goes on to say: “The restrictions on tourism travel are common-sense measures meant to prevent U.S. dollars from supporting a murderous regime that opposes U.S. security interests at every turn and which ruthlessly suppresses the most basic liberties of speech, assembly, and belief.”
Though it is currently illegal to vacation in the country, Americans are able to travel there each year on academic, religious, journalistic or cultural exchange licenses. In 2011, President Obama started granting “people-to-people” licenses, which makes it easier for United States citizens who do not have special status (working journalists or scholars) to visit the country legally, The New York Times reported. The only requirement is that the traveler must go with a “licensed operator,” which currently includes the Harvard University Alumni Association or travel group Insight Cuba.
In the past, American artists like actor Clive Owen (who was researching for his role in the HBO film Hemingway & Gellhorn) and Leonardo DiCaprio, who visited with Alanis Morissette in 1998, have traveled to the country for cultural purposes. Perhaps, Jay-Z was visiting in regards to his latest business venture, the sports management company Roc Nation Sports?
While their travel purpose has not yet been disclosed, their trip was heavily documented. Along with numerous stories in the Havana Times chronicling the high profile duo’s every move and the paparazzi photos taken of the couple in Havana, Bey posted photos of her own on her Instagram.
The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control, which is responsible for licensing approved travel to Cuba, said it does not comment on individual cases, according to Huffington Post. Beyoncé and Jay also have yet to comment. The couple is known to take the silent approach, choosing instead to let things resolve themselves (i.e. Bey’s lip-syncing controversy.)
As the Treasury Department states on their website, the punishment for violating the travel ban is either a 10-year prison sentence or a $250,000 fine. But even though thousands of Americans travel to Cuba every year, few are actually prosecuted.
For some though, like Mauricio Claver-Carone, it won’t make a difference whether the superstar couple actually did obtain the proper permits. Claver-Carone, the Executive Director of Cuba Democracy Advocates in Washington, D.C., a group dedicated to promoting democracy in the Caribbean country, told TMZ he believes Bey and Jay should have done their research before visiting the communist country, citing Cuba’s history of human rights violations.
“There are women getting beaten on a daily basis, women who are being jailed for no reason … people are fighting for their freedom,” he said. “It’s extremely insensitive.”