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 did approve 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.