Wasserman Schultz is chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee and the entertainment couple are prominent supporters of President Barack Obama. But Wasserman Schultz’s district includes part of Miami-Dade County, and she’s always had a hard-line on Cuba.
She’s also close to U.S. Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart, the Cuban-American Republicans who represent Miami-Dade County. (Diaz-Balart also represents part of southwest Broward.)
“I’m absolutely uncomfortable with the way, and concerned about, not just Jay-Z and Beyoncé but some of the travel, the 'people to people' travel, that has been occurring in Cuba, has resulted,” Wasserman Schultz said in a brief interview Tuesday with the Sun Sentinel.
“I would be interested to know what type of people to people qualifying activity they did during their trip. The travel that exists in Cuba that was allowed by the Obama administration was specifically to make sure that you could have educational opportunities and there is supposed to be interaction at every step of a trip between the participants and the Cuban people. And I hope that that happened with this particular trip. We need to make sure that people to people travel complies with the law,” she said.
The popular pop musician Beyoncé Knowles-Carter – who performed at Obama’s inauguration and the Super Bowl this year and was named most beautiful woman in the world last year by People magazine – and Shawn Carter, her rap artist husband who goes by the stage name Jay-Z, traveled to the island nation last week to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary.
Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart raised concerns in a letter they wrote to the Treasury Department and released over the weekend. They wanted to know who approved the couple’s trip to Cuba and who it was approved by. They cited federal law banning financial transactions that are part of tourist activities in the island nation.
The New York Times reported that the Treasury Department is now investigating whether Jay-Z and Beyoncé violated the trade embargo. The Times reported that the couple “visited the children’s theater group La Colmenita, where Beyoncé danced with little girls dressed as bumblebees, and met with students and teachers at the Superior Art Institute. Photographs also showed Jay-Z enjoying a Cuban cigar on the balcony of their government-owned hotel, the Saratoga, but the trip also included personal and intimate exchanges.”
“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,” Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart wrote.
“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. We represent a community of many who have been deeply and personally harmed by the Castro regime’s atrocities, including former political prisoners and the families of murdered innocents.
“The restrictions on tourism travel are common-sense measures meant to prevent U.S. dollars from supporting a murderous regime that opposes U.S. security interests at every turn and which ruthlessly suppresses the most basic liberties of speech, assembly, and belief. We support the Cuban people by refusing to sustain their jailers,” Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart wrote.
Ros-Lehtinen is a top member of the House Foreign Relations Committee; she was the panel’s chairwoman until term limits forced her to relinquish the gavel in January.
Late Monday night, another prominent Cuban-American political leader, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., followed Ros-Lehtinen and Diaz-Balart’s lead.
He issued a statement demanding the Obama Administration to “explain exactly how trips like these comply with U.S. law and regulations governing travel to Cuba and it should disclose how many more of these trips they have licensed.”
Last September, Obama appeared at a political fundraising reception hosted by the couple in New York City. Reuters reported that tickets for the event cost $40,000 each, and the Obama campaign estimated about 100 people attended. Reuters said Beyoncé introduced the president and then sat with her husband to watch the president.