U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart, a Miami Republican who represents part of South Broward, says he's "outraged by the vague response" from President Barack Obama's Treasury Department to the concerns he raised over "the apparent tourist activities" of Beyoncé Jay-Z during their recent trip to Cuba.
He and U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, R-Miami, questioned the trip in a letter to the Treasury Department last week. Their objections were then echoed by U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla.
The couple’s trip last week to Cuba stirred up a South Florida political vortex that has U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Weston, chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, voicing the same kinds of concerns raised by prominent Republicans.
“I’m absolutely uncomfortable with the way, and concerned about, not just Jay-Z and Beyoncé but some of the travel … that has been occurring in Cuba,” Wasserman Schultz said in a brief interview Tuesday.
Beyoncé Knowles-Carter and Shawn Carter, her husband who goes by the stage name Jay-Z, traveled to the island nation to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. Big crowds greeted them in the Cuban capital as they strolled hand in hand through the city and posed for pictures — even though the long-standing U.S. trade embargo against Cuba prevents most Americans from traveling to the island without a license granted by the U.S. government. The Obama administration allows “people to people” travel to Cuba for academic, religious or cultural programs.
Diaz-Balart's statement, issued late Tuesday night:
“I am outraged by the vague response from the U.S. Department of the Treasury that failed to answer the simple questions posed by my colleague Congresswoman Ros-Lehtinen and me regarding the apparent tourist activities of celebrities Mrs. Carter-Knowles and Mr. Carter in Cuba.
"In our letter, we explicitly requested information regarding how the highly publicized trip to Cuba, which was widely touted as tourism in press reports and Castro regime propaganda, possibly could comply with the prohibition against ‘tourist activities’ in U.S. law. The Treasury Department’s response provided overly general information on their policies and methods of reviewing applications, but provided no facts specific to that highly publicized trip. We also asked for information regarding the process of how the specific license in question was approved, and by whom. We have no answers to those straightforward questions.
“I have repeatedly spoken out against abuses that result from the ‘people-to-people’ category of travel because it provides propaganda boosts and hard currency to the Castro dictatorship, and harms the Cuban people’s struggle for basic human rights and liberties. I have said that this category of travel skirts the law. It has become obvious that, in this case, the line into tourism was crossed. The Beyoncé and Jay-Z trip is a high profile example of why the ‘people-to-people’ category of travel should be eliminated. It amounts to tourism.
“Many people have been deeply injured by the brutal Castro regime. Some are former political prisoners who were beaten and tortured in Castro's gulags, and others have lost family members to Castro's firing squads and prisons. Permitting apparent tourism travel to Cuba is an insult to them all. I will continue to press for answers on this issue of profound importance to my community and the Cuban people.
“Cuba remains an island prison for those still struggling for basic freedoms. I urge President Obama to side with the Cuban people and halt any further channeling of U.S. tourism dollars to the their jailers.”
Information from Reuters was used in this report.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun