Beyonce and Jay-Z accused of propaganda for Castro
Shawn Carter could have been any American visitor strolling through the streets of a Caribbean town, dressed in standard-issue tourist fare of blue T-shirt and shorts, fedora on head and fat cigar in mouth.Updated: Apr 08, 2013, 14:44 IST
Shawn Carter could have been any American visitor strolling through the streets of a Caribbean town, dressed in standard-issue tourist fare of blue T-shirt and shorts, fedora on head and fat cigar in mouth. His wife, Mrs Carter as she likes to be addressed, did that other classic tourist thing -she slung a large and ostentatiously expensive camera around her neck.
Despite what they presumably thought was their clever tourist disguise, the Carters caused quite a splash when they came to town last week, so much so that local police had to keep the adoring crowds at bay. As the blogger of the Cuban government, Yohandry Fontana put it, Beyonce takes Havana by storm.
It was partly who the visitors were - the undisputed First Couple of popular music. He a hip-hop star turned impresario and now sports agent, she about to embark on a world tour of her The Mrs Carter Show.
The kerfuffle was also a product of the destination that Beyonce and Jay-Z had selected for a short break to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. Havana is not quite as accustomed to dealing with mega-celebrity as Beverly Hills, say, or Monte Carlo.
It also happens to be subject still to a trade embargo imposed by the US government that has lasted substantially longer than the Bey-Jay marriage. Ten times as long in fact; now in its 52nd year.
The embargo technically prohibits all US tourism to the island, which is inconvenient for Beyonce and Jay-Z because as a result of the unexpected attention the inevitable inquisition has followed.
Two Republican Congress members for South Florida, whose constituents include many enduringly embittered Cuban exiles, have raised the issue of the Carters' visit with the White House, denouncing it as having provided sustenance to the murderous Castro regime.
Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart have sent a joint letter to the treasury department official responsible for policing the embargo to demand to be told who approved the Carters' travel and for what purpose. The letter points out that tourist activities are covered by the ban and complains that the trip was used for Cuban propaganda purposes.
"The restrictions on tourism travel are common-sense measures meant to prevent US dollars from supporting a murderous regime that opposes US security interests at every turn and which ruthlessly suppresses the most basic liberties of speech, assembly and belief," they write.
The anti-Castro lobby group Cuba Democracy Advocates accused the couple of being extremely insensitive.
"There are women getting beaten on a daily basis, people are fighting for their freedom," the group's director Mauricio Claver-Carone told the website TMZ.
The letter doesn't say it overtly, but there is an implicit accusatory tone to their complaint that suggests complicity between the Carters and the Obama administration. The music stars are close to Barack and Michelle Obama.
In recent years, Obama has also loosened the noose around Cuba's neck under the trade embargo. Under the revised terms, Americans can visit the island, though trips are still restricted to academic, religious or cultural exchanges in which participants must have a "full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travellers and individuals in Cuba".
By that standard, how does the Carter visit hold up? There was certainly a cultural aspect to it. There was that cigar, for starters, and the typical Cuban creole food - fish, chicken, black beans and rice - they ate at the renowned paladar, La Guarida. You don't get that quality of island cooking every day in Brooklyn, the couple's more familiar stomping ground.
You could also put into the cultural category the stroll through Old Havana, and the time the couple spent on Thursday night at El Gato Tuerto, a legendary Havana nightclub, followed by the Casa de la Musica where, according to Reuters, they danced to salsa until dawn.
As for spending one-on-one time with Cuban individuals, that is not so clear. The blogger Fontana said Beyonce had been booked for lunch with "important figures of Cuban culture", although the only certain interaction was with her mother Tina and Jay-Z's mother, Gloria Carter, who tagged along for the ride.
All in all, bearing in mind the rottweiler-like tenacity of the Cuban exile community, this wrangle has the potential to run for some time. It is unlikely, though, to be causing Mr and Mrs Carter much loss of sleep. The worst that could befall them if found to have broken the embargo is a fine, which for them would be as onerous as tipping a porter at the end of a particularly pleasant holiday.