Updated 3:08 p.m.
Two of the world’s most famous musicians, Beyonce and Jay-Z, made headlines last week when they visited Cuba for their fifth wedding anniversary. American citizens are generally prohibited by the half-century-old economic embargo from traveling to the communist island nation unless the visit meets specific criteria. TPM cannot confirm whether Jay-Z and Beyonce obtained a license to visit Cuba. Reuters has reported an unnamed source in the Treasury Department said the couple was given a license to visit Cuba for an unspecified purpose, but, as of this writing, a spokesman for Treasury stood by earlier claims they cannot comment on specific licenses.Their trip prompted Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), both of whom represent large Cuban-American populations in Florida, to write a joint letter Friday to the Treasury Department, which oversees the travel restrictions on Cuba, demanding “information regarding the type of license that Beyonce and Jay-Z received, for what purpose, and who approved such travel.”
“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 said. “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.”
Monday afternoon, a spokeswoman for Rep. Diaz-Balart said his office still had not heard back from the Treasury Department. TPM also was unable to get the Treasury Department to give an answer about whether Beyonce and Jay-Z were issued a license.
“I cannot comment on specific licenses,” spokesman John Sullivan said. “Travel by U.S. persons to Cuba is generally prohibited unless authorized under Treasury’s regulations.”
The State Department referred us to Treasury for comment on the issue. Speaking to reporters Monday afternoon, White House press secretary Jay Carney also directed questions about the matter to the Treasury Department.
As of this writing, representatives for both Beyonce and Jay-Z did not respond to requests for comment about whether their anniversary trip was licensed and legal. The Cuban government also did not shed light on the question. We made multiple calls to the Cuban Interests Section in Washington and the phone was not answered. The office of the Cuban Tourism board in Canada referred us to the Cuban Embassy in Ottawa. When we called the embassy we heard a recording informing us they were “closed for lunch” from 1 to 2 p.m. The recording was still playing when we tried again after two.
Americans can be issued licenses to visit Cuba for several reasons including; visiting family members there, participate in “official” government business, engage in “journalistic activity,” for “professional research and professional meetings,” “educational activities,” “religious activities,” public “competitions and exhibitions,” and “humanitarian projects.” General tourism is prohibited as it generates money for the Cuban economy in violation of the embargo. However, accounts of Jay-Z and Beyonce’s visit in state-run Cuban media described the famous couple as tourists.