Beyonce and Jay-Z's Cuba trip part of growing cultural travel trend

Tue Apr 9, 2013 11:40pm EDT
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By David Adams

MIAMI (Reuters) - When the Treasury Department approved a cultural trip to Cuba last week, it had no idea that those traveling included American pop superstar Beyonce and her rapper husband Jay-Z, according to people familiar with the four-day visit.

The trip was handled according to a standard licensing procedure for federally approved "people-to-people" cultural tours to the island, and the power couple received no special treatment, said Academic Arrangements Abroad, the New York-based group that organized the trip.

The visit caused a stir because of the high profile of Beyonce and Jay-Z. A longstanding U.S. trade embargo against communist-led Cuba bars most Americans from traveling there without a license from the U.S. government, and specifically prohibits tourism.

Three Cuban-American members of Congress, all Republicans from Florida and supporters of a firm stance on Cuba, asked the Treasury Department to look into the licensing of the trip, prompting officials to seek a full accounting of the itinerary and travel documents from the organizers, according to Academic Arrangements Abroad.

Representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart said the trip was being used for Cuban government propaganda, while Senator Marco Rubio complained that the travel programs "have been abused by tourists."

The Treasury Department confirmed late on Tuesday that Beyonce and Jay-Z's Cuba trip was organized by a federally authorized group.

In a letter responding to the lawmakers, a copy of which was obtained by Reuters, a senior Treasury Department official said it does not request the identities of the travelers on each trip.

The letter did not say if Treasury officials were looking into the trip, but said the department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC), which administers the embargo as well as granting of licenses for travel to Cuba, "has a history of taking appropriate enforcement action" when violations occur.   Continued...

U.S. singer Beyonce (L) and her husband rapper Jay-Z walk as they leave their hotel in Havana April 4, 2013. REUTERS/Enrique De La Osa