Singer Beyonce and Shawn “Jay-Z” Carter traveled to Cuba “pursuant to an educational exchange trip” organized by an authorized company, the U.S. Treasury Department said in response to inquiries from Florida lawmakers.
The trip by the celebrity couple spurred widespread media coverage after two U.S. representatives from Florida, Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, asked the Treasury who approved the travel and for what purpose. U.S. law prohibits financial transactions for tourist activities in Cuba to prevent funding of the government, which controls the industry. The Treasury permits visits for educational reasons.
“It is our understanding that the travelers in question traveled to Cuba pursuant to an educational exchange,” the Treasury said yesterday in a response to each of the lawmakers. The visit was organized by a group authorized to sponsor such trips and coordinate “programs to promote people-to-people contact in Cuba,” it said in letters to the representatives.
The Treasury’s “regulations and guidelines require that such trips involve a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities,” according to the department’s letters.
In her April 5 inquiry to the Treasury, Ros-Lehtinen said the restrictions are in place because communist Cuba is “one of four U.S.-designated state sponsors of terrorism with one of the world’s most egregious human-rights records.”
President Barack Obama in 2009 allowed companies for the first time to provide communications services to the Caribbean island of 11 million people and lifted a travel ban for Cuban-Americans.
Beyonce Knowles-Carter and her husband, Jay-Z, celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary in Havana’s La Guarida restaurant on April 3, according to the Associated Press. They also visited parts of the Cuban capital that date to colonial times, the news service said.
The couple has supported Obama, hosting a $4 million fundraiser in September during his re-election campaign where Obama thanked them for their friendship. Beyonce also sang the national anthem at his second inauguration in January.
“If the tourist activities undertaken by Beyonce and Jay-Z in Cuba are classified as an educational-exchange trip, then it is clear that the Obama administration is not serious about denying the Castro regime an economic lifeline that U.S. tourism will extend to it,” Ros-Lehtinen.
Ros-Lehtinen, who was born in Havana and became the first Hispanic woman to serve in Congress after taking office in 1989, represents a district that includes part of Miami-Dade County, a historic center of Cuban immigrants.
“That was a wedding-anniversary vacation that was not even disguised as a cultural program,” the lawmaker said yesterday in a response to the Treasury’s letter and posted on her website. “As more human-rights activists engage in hunger strikes, I don’t think they will see any evidence of how this scam endeavor will help them become independent of the regime.”
About 145 kilometers (90 miles) south of Florida, Cuba has been ruled by brothers Fidel and Raul Castro since a revolution toppled the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship in 1959, starting an exodus of immigrants to the U.S. and Miami, including Ros-Lehtinen’s parents. The nation has a history of violating human rights, according to Amnesty International.