Sure enough, Beyoncé and Jay-Z may have 99 problems but the State Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) Ain't One.
OFAC, which enforces sanctions against Cuba, assured Republican Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen in a letter Tuesday that the pop power-duo's recent trip to the island on their fifth anniversary had the governmental green light. The Florida lawmakers had written to the Treasury Department demanding to know whether the trip fell afoul of Cold War-era restrictions on Americans' travel to Cuba.
"It is our understanding that the travelers in question traveled to Cuba pursuant to an educational exchange trip organized by a group authorized by OFAC to sponsor and organize programs to promote people-to-people contact in Cuba," Alastair Fitzpayne, Assistant Treasury Secretary for Legislative Affairs, wrote in the letter, which was obtained by Yahoo News.
Fitzpayne, however, also seemed to put a little distance between OFAC and the globetrotting couple, who gave vast sums to President Barack Obama's reelection campaign. He noted that "organizations holding people-to-people licenses must certify in writing to OFAC that any travel that they conduct will consist of a full-time schedule of educational activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba."
But OFAC "does not request the identities of the travelers on each trip," he said.
Ros-Lehtinen was unimpressed.
"If the tourist activities undertaken by Beyonce and Jay-Z in Cuba are classified as an educational exchange trip, then it is clear that the Obama Administration is not serious about denying the Castro regime an economic lifeline that US tourism will extend to it," the Cuban-born lawmaker said in a statement.
"That was a wedding anniversary vacation that was not even disguised as a cultural program," Ros-Lehtinen said. "As more human rights activists engage in hunger strikes, I don't think they will see any evidence of how this scam endeavor will help them become independent of the regime."
If you’re inclined to dig through Treasury's regulations, here they are, but it’s probably enough to say that, as part of a 60-year-old embargo imposed after Fidel Castro seized power, Americans aren’t supposed to go there. And lawmakers like Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart have denounced tourism in Cuba because it provides the Communist government there with sorely needed foreign currency.
The embargo, first imposed by Dwight Eisenhower in 1960 and tightened by many of his successors, aimed to punish Castro’s government for nationalizing U.S. property, to dissuade other Latin American countries from following in Castro’s revolutionary footsteps, and, ultimately, to drive Castro from power.
Tourism to Cuba -- notably from Europe and Canada -- has increased over the years as the island has seen the development of luxury hotels. Americans have been going there in larger numbers as well, and advice on how to go there illegally has proliferated online. With the Soviet Union long gone, Americans have also softened their support for the embargo.
That's not to say that everyone approves. In March, Republican Senator Marco Rubio ripped American visitors to Cuba. "Cuba is not a zoo where you pay an admission ticket and you go in and you get to watch people living in cages to see how they are suffering," Rubio said in a speech.