Cuba Trip by Beyoncé and Jay-Z Investigated
MEXICO CITY - The United States Treasury Department has begun investigating whether Jay-Z and Beyoncé - music's royal couple - violated the trade embargo against Cuba by traveling to the island two weeks ago during their wedding anniversary, according to officials and a person who helped arrange their visit.
In a sudden predictable controversy that proves the embers of conflict between Miami and Havana are never far from becoming flames, Treasury officials on Monday said they were working on a response to demands for more information about the trip from two Cuban-American lawmakers from South Florida - Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, both Republicans, who appear to be using the highly photographed visit to rekindle outrage about Americans going to Cuba for fun.
"Cuba's tourism industry is wholly state-controlled," Ms. Ros-Lehtinen and Mr. Diaz-Balart wrote in a letter to the Treasury Department on Friday, "therefore, U.S. dollars spent on Cuban tourism directly fund the machinery of oppression that brutally represses the Cuban people."
Questions about the megastars' trip have been swirling for days, with some Cuban exile bloggers describing the trip as a propaganda mission "carefully planned and controlled by the Castro dictatorship." But witnesses in Cuba and a person affiliated with the company that arranged the trip, Academic Arrangements Abroad, contend that the visit was a surprise to Cuban leaders, who struggled to provide adequate security with just a day's notice.
The three-night sojourn, according to the person who helped plan it, came together without input from the Cuban government like other visits for Americans under a "people to people" license - granted by the Treasury Department for trips that focus on "educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction" between Americans and Cubans.
About 10,000 Americans go to Cuba each year with such tours, and the Treasury Department tightened the rules for trip agendas last year after Senator Marco Rubio, another Cuban-American Republican from Florida, criticized the tours for allowing tourism, which is banned by the embargo.
Jay-Z and Beyoncé visited the children's theater group La Colmenita, where Beyoncé danced with little girls dressed as bumblebees, and met with students and teachers at the Superior Art Institute. Photographs also showed Jay-Z enjoying a Cuban cigar on the balcony of their government-owned hotel, the Saratoga, but the trip also included personal and intimate exchanges. The restaurants where Cubans saw the stars eating were privately owned "paladars." Their public cultural outings occurred with an emphasis on interaction with everyday Cubans, not officials.
Miguel Iglesias, the director of the Cuban Contemporary Dance Company, said Beyoncé also went to the company on Friday morning to watch an informal performance. She arrived with her family (her mother was part of the tour group), and half-danced during the show before jumping up at the end with applause, saying the performance was "amazing." He said she then talked to the choreographer and to him about the score and the choreography, because it is a piece that was written and choreographed by the company.
Asked if he thought it was an interesting exchange, Mr. Iglesias said it was. "If to come here and share ideas and emotions isn't a legitimate exchange between peoples, I don't what is," he said.
He added: "There are those who think that any connection between Cuba and the United States is illegitimate because they disagree with the system. I don't see it like that at all."
Karla Zabludovsky contributed reporting.