What do Jay-Z, Beyonce and Tampa U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor have in common?
All went to Cuba last week.
And all have shown relatively little concern for human-rights violations on the island controlled by the Castro dictatorship, said Miami U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, who serves with Castor in Congress.
Castor’s office disputed the criticism, pointing to press statements where the Democrat has met with Cuban dissident Yoani Sanchez and called for independent investigations into the deaths of others.
But it’s not enough for Diaz-Balart, a Republican leader in Miami’s exile community who raised questions last week about the legality of Jay-Z and Beyonce’s trip to Cuba. That visit overshadowed one made by Castor, who travelled on an unrelated mission to increase business opportunities between Tampa and Cuba.
“She [Castor] has been consistent in trying to help business groups and big-business interests do business with the dictatorship,” said Diaz-Balart. “Unfortunately, she has not been very concerned about human-rights violations, about demanding freedom of the press... about free elections."
Diaz-Balart noted that Beyonce performed for the family of Libyan dictator Muammar Gaddafi in 2009 at a private concert attended by Jay-Z and others in the Caribbean.
“She [Beyonce] has a history of not being too concerned about human rights,” Diaz-Balart said.
A publicist for the entertainers has yet to comment on the Cuba visit.
As for Castor, she held a press conference Monday when she returned from Cuba and said the regime needs to change.
“There are still very significant human rights challenges in Cuba,” she said, according to The Tampa Bay Times. “It is still, to many extents, a repressive regime that does not allow citizens to enjoy all of the human rights that we all enjoy.”
Castor called for the end of the embargo against Cuba, which limits trade and travel.
Diaz-Balart and other exile leaders say that won’t happen until Cuba becomes a democracy and releases political prisoners. They say those who spend U.S. money in Cuba strengthen the dictatorship.
The office of the only Cuban-American Democrat in the Florida delegation, Miami Rep. Joe Garcia, said he wasn’t informed of Castor’s trip and knows little of it. But, a spokesman said, Garcia supports the embargo.
Gradually, under President Obama’s administration, relations have thawed somewhat with Cuba. With support from supporters like Castor, the Obama administration has allowed for more travel and money to flow to Cuba, particularly with the so-called “people-to-people” cultural exchange program.
Exile leaders like Diaz-Balart, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Sen. Marco Rubio say the people-to-people program have been abused by tourists.
The issue came to the fore last week when Jay-Z and Beyonce visited Cuba as part of their fifth wedding anniversary. The Cuban press dubbed it a vacation-like tourist visit, which could be prohibited under U.S. law limiting the spending of U.S. currency in Cuba.
Diaz-Balart and Ros-Lehtinen called for more information about the trip by the entertainers in a letter last week.
Reuters reported today that the trip was sanctioned, but it’s unclear what the purpose of the trip was as of yet. And the entertainers could still face trouble (more here)
Rubio followed up today with a request that the Obama administration “explain exactly how trips like these comply with U.S. law and regulations governing travel to Cuba and it should disclose how many more of these trips they have licensed.”
Diaz-Balart said he has the same concern, even if the trip were technically legal.
Diaz-Balart said both Castor and the entertainers should have done more to call for democracy and the end to human-rights abuses in Cuba.
“You would think, obviously, that at least if they would go there, they would do some basic things and try to visit someone like the founder and president of the Rosa Parks Woman’s Movement -- founded to protest and bring attention to human-rights violations -- she’s in prison just because of that. There’s Jose Luis Garcia Perez ‘Antunez,’ someone nicknamed in prison ‘black diamond’ [because he was so hard to crack], someone like Sonia Garro, in prison now for just speaking out about human rights,” Diaz-Balart said.
“It’s like going to South Africa during apartheid and not call for the release of Nelson Mandela,” Diaz-Balart said. “In this case, there’s even an American in prison since 2009, Alan Gross.”