President Obama meets Beyonce and Jay-Z during a 2012 fundraiser
Jay-Z, international rap star and husband to pop diva Beyonce, took out his frustration against Republicans’ attacks on him and his wife Thursday in a new rap track, mocking their anger over their recent trip to Cuba.
Florida Republicans, including Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), have been attacking both the celebrity couple and the Obama administration for almost a week now, claiming that the trip may have violated U.S. sanctions against Cuba. The new track — titled “Open Letter” — extensively references and mocks those attacks as well as highlighting their ties to the Obama administration:
“I done turned Havana into Atlanta,” Jay-Z raps in “Open Letter,” which he released Thursday. “[…] Boy from the hood, I got White House clearance… Politicians never did s—- for me except lie to me, distort history… They wanna give me jail time and a fine. Fine, let me commit a real crime.”
Listen to the track here:
As Jay-Z noted, the two actually did not commit a crime in visiting Havana. Instead, their trip was approved under a “people-to-people” license from the U.S. Treasury Department, which handles policy related to the Cuba embargo. Under the terms of the license, Jay-Z and Beyonce stuck strictly to an approved schedule, forgoing normal tourist behavior in favor of walking tours of Cuban architecture. The entire “scandal” simply highlights the ridiculous nature of the fifty-year old broken policy the United States has towards Cuba.
Republicans continued on Tuesday to call on the Obama administration to answer questions surrounding superstars Beyoncé and Jay-Z’s trip to Cuba, inadvertently showcasing the massive failure that is U.S. policy towards the communist island nation.
Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) on Monday joined those demanding answers from the White House on just who approved the celebrity couple’s trip to Cuba for their fifth wedding anniversary. Meanwhile, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) — co-author of the letter to the Treasury Department that kicked off the “scandal” — appeared on CNN on Tuesday morning to continue to fan the flames, questioning whether the trip was taken illegally:
ROS-LEHTINEN: No one is above the law even if you are the diva Beyoncé. That’s wonderful that she is famous and rich, and Jay-Z — everybody loves him too, but no one’s above the law.
Reuters is reporting the Treasury Department didapprove of the trip, under the “people-to-people” licenses the Obama administration first created in 2009. Under the provisions of the licenses, travelers cannot participate in typical tourist activities such as beachgoing. Instead, according to Reuters’ source, every minute of the power couple’s trip was planned out to comply with the rules, where even “a walk around the Old City of Havana, mobbed by crowds of excited Cuban spectators, was led by Miguel Coyula, one of the city’s leading architects.”
Though it seems inherently ridiculous and political for Florida Republicans to target Mr. and Mrs. Carter, the whole instance shines the spotlight on one of the most lengthy failed policies in U.S history. The U.S. embargo on Cuba was first put into place with the rise of communist leader Fidel Castro into power in 1960. A total ban on trade with and travel to the island just ninety miles off the Florida coast, the intention was to suffocate the Castro regime while still young, allowing the restoration of democracy. More than fifty years later, Castro is still alive, though no longer running the country, with no signs that the system he set up will collapse any time soon.
The rules currently in place surrounding the embargo are easily — and frequently — dodged by Americans seeking to visit the isolated island. Additionally, only rarely are those who slip into Cuba actually punished, with only two having to pay the fine associated with illegal travel. Had Beyoncé and Jay-Z actually broken the law in traveling to Cuba, they would have paid a combined $15,000 — hardly an amount that would be worthy of Congressional investigation.
Experts at CAP and the Cato Institute alike agree that the policy has been an abject failure at achieving the goals the United States set out. On taking office, President Obama sought to roll-back some of the harsher restrictions the previous administration placed on Cuba, including removing a ban on remittances from Cubans in the U.S. to their families back home and reducing travel restrictions on Americans with immediate family in Cuba.
Every step towards reforming Cuba policy, however, has been met with kicking and screaming, mostly from the GOP with some Democrats joining in. While the human rights violations the Cuban regime continues to perpetrate are most certainly a concern, campaign funding may play a strong role in the perpetuation of U.S. policies. A 2009 report from Public Campaign highlighted the nearly $11 million the U.S.-Cuba Democracy Political Action Committee, along with a “network of hard-line Cuban American donors,” spent on political campaigns since 2004. In the report, those candidates who received funding displayed a shift in voting patterns on Cuba policy in the aftermath of the gift.
Two Florida Republicans are prompting the Obama administration to open an investigation into Beyonce and Jay-Z’s recent trip to Cuba, arguing that the couple may have violated sanctions against the communist country.
Former House Foreign Affairs Committee chairwoman Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and her colleague Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart sent a letter to the Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control on Friday, calling for an investigation into whether any laws were broken during the celebrities’ trip:
We write to express concern and to request information regarding the highly publicized trip by U.S. musicians Beyoncé Knowles-Carter (Beyoncé) and Shawn Carter (Jay-Z) to Cuba. We would like to respectfully request, within all applicable rules and guidelines, information regarding the type of license that Beyoncé and Jay-Z received, for what purpose, and who approved such travel. [...]
Cuba’s tourism industry is wholly state-controlled; therefore, U.S. dollars spent on Cuban tourism directly fund the machinery of oppression that brutally represses the Cuban people.
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.
Beyonce and Jay-Z did recently travel to Cuba for their fifth anniversary, a move that has upset many in the Cuban-American community. Ros-Lehtinen in particular represents a large Cuban population, and has been a major factor in preventing lawmakers from lifting the fifty-year old embargo on Cuba, despite both international and domestic support for such a measure.
Travel from the United States to Cuba strictly for tourism purposes is currently illegal under the U.S. embargo, but the ban is frequently flouted. Americans who want to legally travel to Cuba can use “people-to-people licences,” visas that allow for education exchanges between the two countries. In their letter, Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart question whether the Obama administration provided Mr. and Mrs. Carter with such licences and for what purpose.
Both Beyonce and Jay-Z have been outspoken in their support for Obama, making them easy targets for Republicans. The couple hosted a star-studded fundraiser for the Obama campaign in 2012, and both have performed for the President on numerous occasions.
On Tuesday, Mitt Romney’s campaign debuted a new ad in Florida that shows Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and Cuban leader Raul Castro’s daughter saying they’d vote for President Obama if they were American citizens. The Spanish-language ad is similar to work done by conservative outlets, like Fox News and TownHall.Com, trying to connect foreign dictators to Obama. Here’s the Miami Herald’s translation of Romney’s ad:
NARRATOR: Who supports Barack Obama?
CHAVEZ: If I were American, I’d vote for Obama.
NARRATOR: Raúl Castro’s daughter, Mariela Castro, would vote for Obama.
CASTRO: I would vote for President Obama.
NARRATOR: And to top it off, Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency sent emails for Hispanic Heritage month with a photo of Che Guevara.
CHAVEZ: If Obama were from Barlovento (a Venezuelan town), he’d vote for Chávez.
ROMNEY: I’m Mitt Romney, and I approve this message.
The ad is a hyperbolic play on the right-wing’s baseless paranoia about Obama being “foreign,” a communist and in bed with dictators. And indeed, Chavez and the Castros haven’t exactly said nice things about Obama either. In 2011, Chavez criticized President Obama for being “the president of an empire” and said he little “hope” for the President. For his part, President Obama has called out Venezuela for its repressive policies, saying in December that “we have been deeply concerned to see action taken to restrict the freedom of the press, and to erode the separation of powers that is necessary for democracy to thrive.” Relations between America and Venezuela haven’t changed much since President Obama took office: in 2010 Chavez did not accept the nominated U.S. Ambassador to Venezuela. As a result, the U.S. withdrew a visa for the Venezuelan ambassador. In 2012, the Obama administration expelled another Venezuelan diplomat.
And it’s not just Chavez that’s been critical of the President: Fidel Castro, former leader of Cuba, said about the President’s U.N. speech in 2011, “Who understands the gibberish of the President of the United States speaking before the United Nations?”
The ad’s accusation that “Obama’s Environmental Protection Agency” sent emails with a picture of Che Guevara is also missing a key bit of context. Susie Goldring, an EPA employee, sent the email. She says she “had no idea who the person on the wall in the photo was” and quickly apologized for sending the email. The EPA also clarified that the “email was drafted and sent by an individual employee, and without official clearance.”
The ad might represent the Romney campaign’s last-ditch efforts to increase its support in the Latino community. Thus far, polls have shown a wide gap between the two candidates with 77 percent supporting President Obama and only 23 percent supporting Mitt Romney.
Rosa Hombredela, a Cuban-American, told the Miami Herald that the ad disgusted her because it reminded her of “the same infectious style of politics that put Castro in power has germinated in Miami making it a banana republic. I was born in Cuba, raised in the United States, I’m a woman, a Republican and I voted yesterday for President Barack Obama. Proud to say so.”
Mitt Romney’s speech to the Republican National Convention on Thursday night was riddled with misleading claims and critical omissions. In no section was this more true than Romney’s discussion of foreign policy. The GOP presidential nominee devoted only 202 words to national security and while his speech completely ignored the war in Afghanistan and any homage to American servicemembers, it contained a shocking number of misstatements and false and baseless attacks on President Obama:
1. Obama and America: “I will begin my presidency with a jobs tour. President Obama began with an apology tour. America, he said, had dictated to other nations. No Mr. President, America has freed other nations from dictators.”
THE FACTS: The notion that Obama went on an “apology tour” has been repeatedly and conclusively debunked, though it remains a staple of Romney’s post-truth campaign. The “dictated” line is likely of a similar provenance, but there’s an irony to the second half of that sentence — Obama has “freed other nations from dictators,” as he helped form and lead an international coalition that toppled Muammar Qaddafi in Libya. Romney’s position on the Libya intervention, by contrast, was something of an incoherent muddle.
2. Iran: “Every American was relieved the day President Obama gave the order, and Seal Team Six took out Osama bin Laden. But on another front, every American is less secure today because he has failed to slow Iran’s nuclear threat. In his first TV interview as president, he said we should talk to Iran. We’re still talking, and Iran’s centrifuges are still spinning.”
THE FACTS: There’s a reason the President decided to talk to Iran — the Obama administration is quite aware of the consequences of a nuclear weapons-equipped Iran, if its leaders decide to go that route, and has determined that diplomacy presents the “best and most permanent” means of resolving the crisis. Moreover, the diplomatic approach has produced concrete dividends. While Iran hasn’t capitulated, signalling that America was willing to talk to Iran helped build international support for significantly stepped-up sanctions. Contra Romney, the new sanctions imposed by Obama’s coalition have unequivocally slowed Iran’s nuclear progress by limiting its ability to acquire critical materiel, according to the U.N. and the Pentagon. Perhaps that’s why, when they’re not hinting at starting a devastatingwar, Romney advisers and surrogates have been unable to differentiate their candidate’s policy from the status quo.
Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of Cuban president Raúl Casto
When the State Department granted the head of Cuba’s National Center for Sex Education, Mariela Castro Espín, a visa to chair a panel on LGBT issues at the Latin American Studies Association in San Francisco later this week, the Republican response was as obvious as the Cuban LGBT activist’s relations to the Caribbean island’s Communist dictators. Her father is Cuban President Raúl Castro, her uncle is revolutionary leader and longtime dictator Fidel Castro, and the Republicans were “appalled.”
Even presumptive GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney got in on the action, releasing a statement accusing the Obama administration of “a slap in the face to all those brave individuals in Cuba who are enduring relentless persecution.”
The administration’s appalling decision to allow regime agents into the U.S. directly contradicts Congressional intent and longstanding U.S. foreign policy.
If it’s “longstanding U.S. foreign policy” to deny Mariela Castro a visa to enter the U.S., someone forgot to tell President George W. Bush. The Bush administration granted Castro not one but three visas to enter the U.S. in 2001 and 2002. State Department spokesman william Ostick told the Miami Herald:
Mariela Castro visited once in 2001 and twice in 2002. I can’t discuss her visas specifically, but you can assume she needed one to travel.
An Obama surrogate, Freddy Balsera, told the Herald:
In fact, the top State Department Official in charge of Latin America at the time was a Cuban American. Where was their criticism then? Nowhere, because ultimately this is all about politics for them.
A ThinkProgress search of the Lexis Nexis news database for Mariela Castro’s name during 2001 and 2002 returned no results relevant to her trips to the U.S.
Former attendees at the Latin American Studies Association (LASA) said that Cuba has long been a presence at LASA conferences. This year, the State Department accepted 60 visas, denied 11, and is still processing 6. A State spokesman said visas couldn’t be rejected simply because “we don’t like you.”
LASA’s president told the Associated Press that Castro’s appearance at the conference was “an academic issue, not a political issue,” and that she’d answered a call for papers like any other conference speaker.
GOP presidential contender Rep. Michele Bachmann (MN) has a history of flubbing basic foreign policy facts, like when she claimed that Americans still live in fear of the Soviet Union. She made another whopper yesterday when she claimed that Hezbollah, the Lebanese Shiite Muslim political and military organization, is equipping communist Cuba with missiles. It would be “foolish” to normalize trade relations with Cuba, Bachmann told a crowd in Iowa, because Hezbollah could soon have “missile sites” there:
BACHMANN: Why would you normalize trading with a country that sponsors terror? There’s reports that have come out that Cuba has been working with another terrorist organization called Hezbollah. And Hezbollah is potentially looking at wanting to be part of missile sites in Iran and, of course, when you’re 90 miles offshore from Florida, you don’t want to entertain the prospect of hosting bases or sites where Hezbollah could have training camps or perhaps have missile sites or weapons sites in Cuba. This would be foolish.
There is absolutely no evidence to support her claim, which seems to be based on spurious reports in an Italian publication that did not even mention missiles.
The good news? Cuban energy officials are taking the lessons of the BP oil spill disaster very seriously, according to a group of oil drilling and environmental experts just back from Cuba, including the co-chairman of the Bipartisan National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling (also former EPA administrator), the head of the International Association of Drilling Contractors, a former senior executive for Royal Dutch Shell, and a longtime Cuba expert with the Environmental Defense Fund.
The bad news? Less than three months before deep water drilling begins in Cuban waters in the Gulf of Mexico, neither Congress nor the Obama administration has taken the necessary steps to help prevent or respond to a similar disaster that could impact even more US coastline. Granted, it seems a bit far-fetched to imagine the present Congress sending any legislation to the president these days, so the burden of preparedness essentially rests with the administration.
That’s got CNN’s Fareed Zakaria wondering, “What in the World?”
The funding, which accounts for about half of OAS’ budget, doesn’t amount to much — just $48 million. So why did House Republicans, led by right-wing Committee Chairwoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), vote for Rep. Connie Mack’s (R-FL) amendment eliminating it? Because, Mack said, the OAS was supporting U.S. foes. The Associated Press reported on the mark-up:
Mack insisted that the measure did not represent isolationism but rather was targeted at an organization that backs Venezuela and its U.S. foe, President Hugo Chavez.
“Let’s engage our allies and friends, but let’s not continue to support an organization that’s perpetuating some countries’ ability” to destroy democracies, Mack said.
Likewise, Rep. David Rivera (R-FL) criticized Cuba’s human rights record as the amendment was being debated.
But the OAS’ close allegiance with Cuba and Chavez’s Venezuela are both highly suspect — as in: not actually true.
Cuba is not even a member of the OAS, as Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) pointed out. At Foreign Policy, Josh Rogin adds that in 2009 the OAS lifted its ban on Cuban membership, but the democratic threshold for membership remains in place — and so Cuba, for now, is out.
And the OAS has actually strongly criticized Chavez and Venezuela twice in the past two years. In early 2010, the OAS issued a blistering report about Venezuela’s human rights record and slipping democratic credentials. In January of this year, OAS Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza criticized a Venezuelan law passed in December as being “completely contrary” to the Inter-American Democratic Charter passed by the OAS in 2001. Insulza added that the issue would likely come before the OAS.