U.S. singer Beyonce and her husband, rapper Jay-Z, right, tours Old Havana as a body guard, left, and tour guide, right, accompany them in Cuba in early April.

Ramon Espinosa, AP

Jay-Z, Beyonce hit sour note on Cuba

  • Article by: DALE McFEATTERS
  • Scripps Howard News Service
  • April 11, 2013 - 12:57 PM

If Cuba’s communist regime can’t be destroyed by a singer with a frenetic stage presence and an association with the term “Bootylicious” and a rapper who once shot his older brother and did an album called “American Gangster,” then it’s probably impervious to change from the exceptional American entertainer, let alone the average American.

Heaven knows, we’ve tried everything else for the last 53 years, perhaps even exceeding Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity, of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.

Beyonce Knowles and her husband, rapper/businessman/clothing designer Jay-Z, have just returned from five days in Cuba playing tourist on what was clearly a vacation. And that’s illegal for everyday Americans not of Cuban descent.

The more heated members of the Cuban-American delegation in Congress wanted the Knowles-Carters (Z’s real name is Shawn Carter) met at the airport and frog-marched off to custody for violating U.S. laws on trade and travel to Cuba — those are the aforementioned laws with a half-century of proven failure — laws apparently drawn up by Franz Kafka and George Orwell after a heavy night of drinking Cuba Libres.

Traveling to Cuba is forbidden for most Americans. Thanks to the Cuban-American lobby, it’s the only country that is. The thinking is that the presence of American celebrities confers legitimacy on the regime and provides it much-needed cash to oppress its people, even though this is rather undermined by the fact that Canadians, Europeans and Latin Americans come and go freely.

Dennis Rodman went to North Korea, a country infinitely crazier and more dangerous than Cuba, and everybody, including the U.S. government, treated it as a great lark, even though his host, Kim Jong Un, might be certifiably nuts.

Americans need a license to travel to Cuba. They’re easier to obtain — “easy” being a relative term — for journalists, academics and performers whose schedules leave them no leisure time to overthrow the government.

The most common form of permission, as described by one Washington publication reporting on the Knowles-Z controversy, is “a people-to-people license which allows travel to Cuba as long as the trip is structured and filled with meaningful full-time educational activities with Cubans.” Or, as it might be described, “Dick and Jane Go to Cuba.”

Some travelers skip the process altogether and go through a third country, confident that Cuban border officials will leave their passports unstamped, although Treasury, if it thinks the offense egregious enough to be worth pursuing, can impose large fines.

Cuban hard-liners in Congress demanded to know how Jay-Z and Beyonce got permission to go to Havana, although the fact that Beyonce sang the ballad “At Last” for the first couple’s first dance at the 2009 inauguration might have told them something. And they are two of President Barack Obama’s biggest supporters and donors in the entertainment industry.

In another time-honored dance, inquiries to the White House about the couple’s extracurricular trip to Cuba were referred to spokesman Jay Carney, who referred them to Treasury, which referred them to the Office of Foreign Assets Control, which said it would get back to them.

With risky countries, the State Department role should be to caution Americans against traveling there, explain that there is little the department can do for them if they get in trouble and otherwise wish them a safe trip.

Conservative Arizona GOP Sen. Jeff Flake tweeted, “So Beyonce and Jay-Z are in Cuba? Fine by me. Every American should have the right to travel there.”

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