Beyoncé, Jay-Z Cuba visit raises Republicans' red flag
The two musicians celebrated their fifth wedding anniversary on Friday in Havana, where big crowds greeted them as they strolled hand in hand through the Cuban capital.
They ate at some of the city's best restaurants, danced to Cuban music, walked through historic Old Havana and posed for pictures with admiring Cubans, who recognised them despite the past half-century of ideological conflict that separates the United States and Cuba.
They were the latest and perhaps greatest big-name American stars – actors Bill Murray, Sean Penn and James Caan among them – to visit the Caribbean island in the past few years, but the first to cause such a stir everywhere they went.
According to the Guardian on Sunday, Cuba "happens to still be subject to a trade embargo imposed by the US government that has lasted substantially longer than the Bey-Jay marriage. Ten times as long in fact, being now in its 53nd year.
"The embargo technically prohibits all US tourism to the island, which is inconvenient for Beyoncé and Jay-Z because as a result of the unexpected attention their visit attracted, the inevitable inquisition has followed. Two Republican representatives for south Florida, whose constituents include many enduringly embittered Cuban exiles, have raised the issue of the Carters' visit with the Obama administration, denouncing it as having provided sustenance to the 'murderous' Castro regime."
Despite the backlash the two artists received, fans in Havana's street cried out Beyonce's name as she and Jay-Z and their mothers dined at the upstairs restaurant La Guarida, famed as the location for the hit 1993 Cuban film Strawberry and Chocolate.
The two Republicans "Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart have sent a joint letter to the treasury department official responsible for policing the embargo to demand to be told who approved the Carters' travel and for what purpose. The letter points out that 'tourist activities' are covered by the ban and complains that the trip was used by the Castro regime for propaganda purposes," reported the Guardian.
Adding to the criticism, the anti-Castro lobby group Cuba Democracy Advocates, based in Washington, accused the couple of being "extremely insensitive". "There are women getting beaten on a daily basis, people are fighting for their freedom," the group's director Mauricio Claver-Carone told celebrity news website TMZ.
According to the UK newspaper the congressmembers' letter doesn't say it overtly, but there is an implicit accusatory tone to their complaint that suggests complicity between the Carters and the Obama administration. "The music stars are close to Barack and Michelle Obama – Jay-Z was an opening act for the president at several of his campaign election last year, and Beyoncé famously lip-synched the national anthem at his second inauguration," stated the Guardian.
"Obama has also loosened in recent years the noose tied around Cuba's neck under the trade embargo. Under the revised terms, Americans can visit the island, though trips are still restricted to academic, religious or cultural exchanges in which participants must have a 'full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travellers and individuals in Cuba'."
Last week the two US stars seemed to adhere to the revised terms of the trade embargo and paid schools and cultural institutions a visit while having fun too.
Culture and clubbing
On Friday they visited a children's theatre group called La Colmenita, a source close to the group said.
On Thursday night, they dined at La Fontana, one of the city's more established private restaurants, or paladares, and a favourite of visiting foreigners, but police blocked off surrounding roads to prevent onlookers.
Later, they went to El Gato Tuerto, a famous Havana nightclub, then to the Casa de la Musica in the Miramar district where the source said they "danced until dawn" to salsa and other music by the band Havana D'Primera.
On Friday, they toured Cuba's famous art school, Instituto Superior de Arte, and, according to Cuba's government blogger Yohandry Fontana, Beyoncé was to have lunch with "important figures of Cuban culture".
His blog ran several photographs of her and Jay-Z under the headline "Beyoncé Rocks Havana".
Jay-Z, in shorts, a short-sleeve shirt and straw hat, looked like a typical tourist, puffing on a big Cuban cigar.
Beyoncé, camera in hand, wore a colourful print mini-dress, big sunglasses, dangling ear-rings and her long braids piled high. The Grammy winner posed for a photograph with a group of smiling Cuban schoolchildren.
US out of the blue
The couple declined to talk to the media to explain the purpose of their visit. The source close to the group said they were invited by Cuba's tourism ministry.
In Washington, the state department said it had no prior knowledge of the visit. A spokesperson at the US Interests Section in Havana said she did not know if the two stars obtained a license for their trip, which if they did not could expose them to a fine.
Publicists for the couple did not return emails or phone calls seeking comment. The US treasury department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which handles licenses for travel to Cuba, said it does not comment on individual cases. – Reuters; Guardian