From El Nuevo Herald's Juan Tamayo:
Superstar couple Beyoncé and Jay Z will likely claim that they 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 respective 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 OFAC restrictions.
They can travel under “specific licenses” obtained in advance from OFAC, for instance for educational trips known as “people to people travel.” 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 afterward.
What Beyonce and Rep. Castor have in common: neither cares much about Cuba human rights, says Rep. Diaz-Balart
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 statement from Sen. Marco Rubio on the now-controversial Cuba trip taken by entertainers Jay-Z and Beyonce:
“U.S. law clearly bans tourism to Cuba by American citizens because it provides money to a cruel, repressive and murderous regime. Since their inception, the Obama Administration’s 'people to people' cultural exchange programs have been abused by tourists who have no interest in the Cuban people’s freedom and either don’t realize or don’t care that they’re essentially funding the regime’s systematic trampling of people’s human rights.
“According to recent news reports, Jay-Z and Beyonce’s Cuba trip, which the regime seized on for propaganda purposes, was fully licensed by the Treasury Department. If true, the Obama Administration should 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.”
Pop star Jay-Z and Beyonce's fifth wedding anniversary trip to Cuba was "fully licensed" and therefore was legal, a source told Reuters.
But beyond that, it's unclear just what kind of permission they got.
And Miami's Republican U.S. representatives, Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, say they want to know more about the case. On Friday, they openly called for details of the trip by the R&B stars who happen to also be big-time backers of President Obama.
Many celebrities have visited Cuba, but this trip drew more attention because it was billed in the press as a purely tourism-driven trip, said Diaz-Balart, and that's not legal.
Under federal law, American citizens traveling to Cuba generally need United States Treasury Department permission to spend U.S. currency on the communist island because U.S. money is technically property of the federal government. Licenses are often granted for journalistic, academic, religious, academic or cultural reasons.
Assuming the performers were given a license on cultural grounds, did their mothers, body guards and other members of their retinue receive a license to travel to Cuba? Also, the performers stayed at a hotel reportedly costing $149 a night. And under many licensing arrangements, we're told, many U.S. citizens are limited to spending about $140 daily. Did this apply to Jay-Bey?
Developing.... more later
U.S. Reps. Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both Cuban-American Republicans from Miami, sent a letter late Friday to the Treasury Department asking for details about R&B stars Beyoncé and Jay-Z's trip this week to Cuba.
In the letter to the office of foreign assets control, the members of Congress say they want to find out which type of license the couple received to travel to the island, what the purpose of their trip is and who approved it.
"As you know, U.S. law expressly prohibits the licensing of financial transactions for 'tourist activities' in Cuba," the letter says. It also notes that so-called "people-to-people" licenses require that travelers have "a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities" in Cuba.
"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 says. "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."
Contractor Odebrecht USA has invited construction trade organizations to attend an information session Monday on a massive new project for Miami International Airport called Airport City. But don’t expect to see the Latin Builders Association there.
The LBA will skip the session because a subsidiary of Odebrecht’s Brazilian parent company is renovating the Cuban Port of Mariel. That connection has put the Coral Gables-based Odebrecht USA in political hot water. Several county commissioners have opposed giving the firm any more work.
“We must be steadfast in our resolve for our brothers in Cuba,” LBA President Bernie Navarro wrote in a letter. “We can’t allow Odebrecht to traffic with our suffering. Our position is not negotiable.”
Navarro, however, made sure to call Gilberto Neves, Odebrecht USA’s president, “a class act.” “His actions and respect for this community are not the same as those of his corporate parent,” he wrote.
Navarro’s letter was distributed by Mauricio Claver-Carone, executive director of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee in Washington that has vocally complained about Odebrecht’s ties to Cuba. A handful of Miami-Dade cities have approved legislation opposing Airport City.
“I don’t know what’s driving them,” Neves told The Miami Herald’s editorial board last week about the cities’ resolutions. “I hope that the benefits of [the project] outweigh that.”
Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez touched down at Miami International Airport Thursday afternoon and reacted emotionally to reuniting with her family as well as arriving in the heartland of Cuban exiles.
Via her Twitter account, Sánchez said she would be spending the next few days with her sister Yunia, brother-in-law and niece before beginning a public agenda Monday.
One of her first stops Thursday was at La Ermita de la Caridad, the Coconut Grove shrine of Our Lady of Charity of El Cobre, Cuba’s patron saint. She met with Miami Archbishop Thomas Wenski, Rev. Richard Vigoa and Rev. Juan Rumín, rector of the bayside shrine. She also had a picture taken of herself sitting on the seawall at the shrine and dubbed it the “malecon of Miami.’’
Sánchez, who was denied permission to leave Cuba for a dozen years despite many invitations to travel abroad, finally received her passport and began an international tour in February that has already taken her to Latin America, Europe, New York and Washington.
Her outspoken style about daily life in Cuba and the plight of dissidents in her Generación Y blog has earned her well over 15 million hits a month and she has hundreds of thousands of followers on Twitter.
Yoani Sánchez, the dissident Cuban blogger who since last month has been on an international tour after being granted a passport, will meet with U.S. senators and representatives on March 19, Sen. Bill Nelson's office announced Monday.
Nelson, of Florida, and Miami Rep. Joe Garcia, both Democrats, invited Sánchez to visit. She plans to spend a couple of days in Washington D.C., and she is scheduled to stop in Miami in April.
"I look forward to this meeting and her unique view of the realities of life in Cuba," Nelson said in a statement.
Read the full statement after the jump.
Cuban leader Raul Castro announced on Sunday he would step down from power after his second term as president ends in 2018.
Castro made the announcement in a nationally broadcast speech shortly after the Cuban National Assembly elected him to a second five-year term in the opening session of the new parliament.
In a surprise move, the new parliament named a rising young star as his first vice president, Miguel Diaz-Canel, 52, a member of the political bureau who rose through the party ranks in the provinces to become the most visible possible successor to Castro. Diaz-Canel would succeed Castro if he cannot serve his full term.