The day President Obama made global headlines for bowing to and shaking hands with Cuba’s communist dictator political dissidents on the island were arrested by the regime for peacefully celebrating International Human Rights Day.
It’s a typical crackdown by Cuba’s oppressive communist government that’s unlikely to receive mainstream media attention, but south Florida’s Spanish-language newspaper wrote about it this week. Intellectuals and peaceful political protesters are often incarcerated on the island, but the timing of this particular raid is notable because the now-famous Obama-Raul Castro handshake ignited speculation of normalizing relations between Washington and Havana.
The exchange took place at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service in South Africa this week. As he strolled by a line of world leaders attending the Johannesburg service, Obama shook hands with Castro and seemed to bow to the much shorter Cuban dictator. Cuba has for years appeared on the State Department’s list of terrorist-sponsoring nations and the communist regime is one of the world’s worst violators of human rights. Additionally, the U.S. has a trade embargo against Cuba and relations have been strained since the Cold War.
Yet there was our commander-in-chief employing the same sort of diplomacy he has used to befriend radical Muslims that want to murder Americans. The White House insists it was not “pre-planned” though the Cuban government hailed it as a hopeful sign. Florida Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen blasted Obama during a House Committee hearing: “When the leader of the free world shakes the bloody hand of a ruthless dictator like Raul Castro, it becomes a propaganda coup for the tyrant. Raul Castro uses that hand to sign the orders to repress and jail democracy advocates.”
Meanwhile, back on the island prison, the Castro regime deployed police to arrest peaceful demonstrators, including a group known as Damas de Blanco (ladies in white), that usually gathers on Sundays. While Obama was schmoozing Castro and delivering a eulogy that touched on human rights and justice, the Cuban government arrested dozens of citizens celebrating the anniversary of the United Nations’ 1948 adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The Obama administration appears to be working to normalize relations with Cuba, despite its documented history of human rights violations and its support for Middle Eastern terrorists. In records obtained by Judicial Watch earlier this year, the Treasury Department granted two famous singers a permit to travel to Cuba. Also this year, the administration granted Cuban officials visas to attend an AIDS conference in Washington D.C. at the request of California Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Lee.
(Washington, DC)–Judicial Watch announced today that it has obtained records from the Department of the Treasury’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) revealing that singers Beyoncé and Jay-Z may have violated the terms of the travel agreement under which they traveled to Cuba by engaging in tourism activities. The Sir John Soane Museum Foundation, which organized the trip, was required by under the OFAC license securing the trip to “provide each traveler with a written statement” informing them of the stringent tourism restrictions, which restricted participants to “a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities.
Judicial Watch obtained the documents on June 14, 2013, in response to an April 9, 2013, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to Treasury. The 32 pages of records provided, “all records concerning, regarding, or relating to Cuba travel by Beyoncé Knowles-Carter’s and Shawn Corey “Jay-Z” Carter from March 31, 2013 through April 8, 2013.” According to the records, OFAC specifically did not “authorize transactions related to activities that are primarily tourist-oriented, including self-directed educational activities that are intended only for personal enrichment.”
Despite the restrictions, reports from both the press covering the couple’s wedding anniversary trip as well as the couple’s own statements indicate that the entertainers engaged in extensive “self-directed” and “tourist-oriented” activities unrelated to “educational activities.” According to the London Daily Mail, “Pictures showing Beyonce and Jay-Z sauntering down a street in Havana, Cuba and taking in the island’s nightlife have sparked outrage among activists appalled that the couple could vacation in a country known for its oppressive regime.”
Florida Senator Marco Rubio, an American of Cuban descent, denouncing the couple as “hypocritical,” said: “These are tourist trips, and they are – what they’re doing is providing hard currency and funding so that a tyrannical regime can maintain its grip on the island of Cuba, and I think that’s wrong,” According to press reports, Beyoncé and Jay-Z “splash[ed] as much as millions of dollars for luxurious accommodations for their entourage of family, friends and security,” on the island, which, according to Freedom House, has confined a some 500,000 political prisoners since the Castro brothers took power.
In a letter to the Director of Foreign Assets Control, Representatives Illeana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), born in Cuba, and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL), of Cuban descent, requested additional information about the OFAC approval process, saying, “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.”
In a photo album posted by Beyoncé on their Tumblr page, the couple is seen taking in their surroundings as they are driven through Havana, often with Jay-Z seemingly sporting a Cuban cigar. And in an angry response to criticism of the couple’s trip, rap-singer Jay-Z produced a song entitled “Open Letter,” claiming he had “done turned Havana into Atlanta,” and telling President Obama, “You don’t need this s—-, come chill with me on the beach.”
“No one should be exempt from the law, regardless of how much money or fame they may have,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “The Obama administration obviously isn’t serious about enforcing the legal restrictions on travel to communist-controlled Cuba. It seems that the Beyoncé/Jay-Z trip made a joke out of the law.”