Despite his lyrics, Jay-Z won’t be “smoking Cubanos with Castro in cabanas” anytime soon if the House of Representatives has any say in it.
In the wake of Jay-Z and Beyonce’s trip to Cuba earlier this year, Republicans in the House Appropriations Committee helped pass earlier this week a spending bill with a provision that seeks to further tighten travel restrictions to the communist island.
“This is the Jay-Z, Beyonce Bill,” Rep. Jose Serrano (D-N.Y.), a member of the committee who opposes the provision, told POLITICO. “Absolutely [it’s a response to the trip], and it’s playing to the audience in Miami.”
Republicans have the majority of support among the conservative Cuban population in southern Florida, which is a powerful voting bloc in the perennial swing state of Florida.
The so-called “Jay-Z, Beyonce” provision is part of a larger $17 billion financial services spending bill for funding in a number of agencies such as the Treasury Department, which approved the celebrity couple's trip to the island. GOP lawmakers, however, argued that the Cuba travel policy is too broad and should be limited to educational trips related to academic learning for a degree-earning program.
“I think that if we’re going to say that we have this policy in place that relates to travel in Cuba that it ought to be enforced and that becomes a gray area where they’re probably not really following the guidelines,” Subcommittee Chairman Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) told POLITICO.
The celebrity couple's trip, which was for the pair’s five-year wedding anniversary, set off a heated debate in the spring about travel to Cuba by U.S. citizens, with everyone from President Barack Obama to Cuban rappers weighing in on the issue.
U.S. citizens are not allowed to travel to Cuba for mere tourism, though they can obtain licenses for academic, religious, journalistic or cultural exchange trips. The so-called people-to-people licenses were reinstated under the Obama administration and are designed to help promote civil society and independence from Cuban authorities.
But the U.S. government tightened requirements to obtain the licenses last year after Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, criticized the programs as cover-ups for tourism. Rubio derided groups that were granted licenses for activities such as salsa dancing and a trip to the Cuban Ministry of Culture.
The U.S. Department of Treasury's Office of Foreign Assets Control issued new rules last May that required travel operators to provide detailed information on every aspect of their trip.
Many Americans have tried to get around the regulations, traveling to Cuba via other countries, such as Mexico and Canada. Often, Cuban immigration officials at airports do not stamp Americans’ passports to help them avoid problems once they return to the United States.