Posted on Monday, 04.08.13
Beyoncé, Jay-Z may claim culture trip
By Juan O. Tamayo
Superstar couple Beyoncé and Jay-Z might have had a legal permit for
their controversial trip to Cuba, but they and their retinue might still
face trouble with the complex U.S. sanctions on the island, U.S.
government and travel industry officials say.
Their visit to the communist-ruled island last week led two
Cuban-Americans in Congress to ask the Treasury Department's Office of
Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which enforces sanctions on Cuba, if the
couple had an OFAC license for the trip.
Cuba's official media reported the couple was on a tourist visit, which
would be illegal under the half-century-old U.S. embargo. They
celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary in Havana and took along
their mothers and at least one bodyguard.
But while U.S. laws and regulations allow Cuban Americans to make
unlimited trips to the island for family reunification visits, U.S.
residents and citizens who are not Cuban American face a tangled web of
They can travel under "specific licenses" approved in advance by OFAC,
for instance, for educational visits known as 'people to people" trips.
Or they can go under "general licenses" for purposes such as journalism
or cultural research, which do not require prior approval but can be
challenged and punished by OFAC afterwards.
Beyoncé and Jay-Z did not obtain individual OFAC approvals for "specific
licenses" in advance of their trip, according to one person in
Washington. He asked to remain anonymous to protect the source of his
The Reuters news agency reported Monday that the couple and their
retinue travelled on a legal people-to-people license held by a group
that was not required to report to OFAC the names of the individuals on
Beyoncé and her husband visited the Superior Institute of the Arts and
watched performances by the Modern Dance Troupe and a children's theater
group in Havana between their arrival Wednesday and their departure Friday.
Still unclear is how much money the group spent while in Cuba. Although
OFAC regulations cap spending in Cuba at $140 per day, the group stayed
at the Saratoga Hotel in Old Havana, where the cheapest room goes for
$148 per night and the most expensive suite costs $324.
Also unknown is how the group travelled to Cuba. Any private planes
flying between the United States and the island must have a special
permit from the U.S. Commerce Department. The fine for violating that
requirement can run up to $250,000.
Beyoncé is not new to political controversies, and in 2009 was paid $2
million by a son of Libyan strongman Moammar Gaddafi to perform at a New
Year's Eve bash on the British-run Caribbean island of St. Barts. She
later donated the money to Haiti earthquake relief.
OFAC spokesman John Sullivan said he could not comment on any individual
cases. The U.S. State Department referred all questions to OFAC. And
Beyoncé publicist Yvette Noel-Schure did not reply to El Nuevo Herald
requests for a comment.
Dozens of famous U.S. entertainers have visited the island in the past
under OFAC general and specific licenses, including Robert Redford, Will
Smith, Jack Nicholson, Kevin Spacey, Jodie Foster, and Danny Glover.
Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, both Miami Republicans
and Cuban Americans, asked OFAC last week what kind of license Beyoncé
and her traveling party had used for the trip to Havana, if any.
The state-controlled CubaDebate Web page shot back Monday with a column
repeating that Beyoncé and Jay-Z were "tourists" and accusing the two
Congress members of persecuting the couple "in the style of McCarthy
from the dark decade of the '50s."
Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican, said the people-to-people trips
have been "abused by tourists who have no interest in the freedom of the
Cuban people and don't realize … that they are essentially financing
the regime's systematic abuses of human rights."
Mauricio Claver-Carone, an anti-Castro lobbyist in Washington who has
denounced the couple's visit to Cuba, said he only wants the
entertainers to hear the arguments of people such as Berta Soler, leader
of the dissident group Ladies in White.
"The point is not to get them fined or reprimanded," he said. "I just
hope they can take five minutes to meet with someone like Berta Soler
and hear their side, and I will be a happy camper."