Jay-Z and Beyonce did Havana last week for their fifth wedding anniversary, which wouldn’t be all the remarkable except that it’s usually illegal for Americans to travel to Cuba. It’s cool for Jay and Bey, though: They had a US government licence.
The longstanding US embargo on the island is intended to punish the oppressive socialist regime there, but it very clearly hasn’t worked. Although a majority of Americans favor allowing travel with Cuba, the embargo endures thanks to the political power of Florida’s Cuban expatriate community. That power is waning, however—President Barack Obama won the state and a majority of the Cuban vote in 2012 despite creating exemptions in the ban for academic, religious, journalistic or cultural exchange trips.
Keeping the story in the news are three Cuban-American members of Congress from Miami: Senator Marco Rubio, and Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. They wrote to the Treasury Department asking if the rapping mogul and his pop star wife were travelling illegally or exploiting the new exemptions for a vacation. In a reply obtained by Quartz, the Treasury department said the pair were travelling as part of a licensed educational tour:
Their itinerary involved meetings with Cuban artists, an architectural tour and other educational activities, as well as visits to some of Cuba’s few private restaurants, apparently fairly typical of such “people-to-people” exchanges. While there aren’t public records of how many Americans travel to Cuba each year (some travel illegally through a third country, risking large fines though enforcement is patchy), a Treasury official says approximately 220 organizations are licensed to provide these kinds of tours.
A coalition of libertarians, progressives and perhaps most importantly farm state legislators, who wish to export crops to Cuba, regularly push for an end to the travel and trade ban. Any hopes that their efforts will succeed this year may take a back seat to comprehensive immigration reform, however. Rubio, who criticized Jay-Z for not reaching out to imprisoned anti-government rapper Ángel Yunier Remón, is playing a central role in efforts to remake US immigration law. Neither congressional leaders nor the White House are likely to do anything that would upset that process now.