Beyoncé and Jay-Z's trip to Cuba last week is being questioned by both Republican lawmakers and major media outlets. But instead of focusing on whether or not the famous couple broke the law, pundits like MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell and Fox News' Steve Doocy are asking why we can't, too.
"Jay-Z and Beyonce's trip to Cuba last week presents us with a crime: Either they committed a crime by going there or it's a crime that they get to go there legally and you can't," MSNBC's Lawrence O'Donnell said on Monday night, before opining that the United States' embargo against Cuban trade tourism is the biggest crime of all.
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While O'Donnell called the U.S. embargo the "single stupidest piece of American foreign policy," he admitted the power couple — both major forces in pop culture and the music industry — must have received special treatment from the White House to legally visit the Communist country for their fifth wedding anniversary.
"If their trip was legal, they got very special treatment from the Obama administration," the "Last Word" host said. "Specifically the Treasury Department, which authorizes such trips."
Doocy, a co-host of "Fox & Friends," expressed a similar point of view on Tuesday morning.
"Extraordinarily, these Hollywood heavyweights — who are aligned with this White House — got a license from the U.S. Department of Treasury. They traveled there legally," Doocy stated. "Many can't, they could."
Guidelines from the Office of Foreign Assets Control at the Treasury Department state that the office "only licenses People-to-People Groups that certify that all participants will have a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities that will result in meaningful interaction between the travelers and individuals in Cuba."
A source familiar with Beyoncé and Jay-Z's itinerary told Reuters that the four-day getaway was, in fact, a legal cultural trip fully licensed by the Treasury Department. Their stay in the Cuban capital, Havana, included included meetings with artists and musicians, visits to several nightclubs where live music was performed, and some of the city's best privately run restaurants, known as "paladares."
Last Friday, Republican U.S. representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart cited media coverage of the trip in a letter they sent a to Adam Szubin, director of the Office of Foreign Assets Control.
"We would like to respectfully request, within all applicable rules and guidelines, information regarding the type of license that Beyoncé and Jay-Z received, for what purpose, and who approved such travel," the Florida congressional colleagues 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."
During an appearance on CNN, Ros-Lehtinen called the celebrity couple pawns in the "game of Communist tyranny" before criticizing them for not spreading a pro-democracy message to the oppressed Cuban population.
"How nice would it have been if they would have said something about freedom and human rights," the congresswoman said. "I'm not saying that they should be politicians, but be sensitive to the cruelty of this regime, what they've done to the people of Cuba. It's just a shame to make it look like an exotic vacation."
"Fox & Friends" co-hosts Brian Kilmeade and Gretchen Carlson echoed Ros-Lehtinen's disapproval of the married musicians' government-approved trip.
"There's an obsession with Hollywood and Cuba," Kilmeade said, making reference to Sean Penn and Bill Murray, both of whom made cultural visits in 2009. "You would think there would be outrage and disdain for those who rob you of your rights and creativity and jail you. And I believe there are more African Americans in jail per capita in Cuba than anybody else."
"And also musicians are jailed there … because of freedom of speech issues," Carlson added. "So you would think that maybe if they went there, it would be to try and change that, potentially, instead of appearing to honor it."