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While Beyonce and Jay-Z were relaxing in Cuba, their critics were getting all worked up. Music's royal couple visited Havana last week to celebrate their fifth anniversary -- which raised eyebrows, because of a longstanding embargo that prevents American tourists from entering Cuba. If you're a U.S. citizen who wants to visit Cuba, you need government permission. You also need to have a reason, beyond "I want to go to there." Was Beyonce and Jay-Z's vacation illegal? The question has generated a new Jay-Z rap, a statement from the White House, and a whole lotta drama.
The political backlash began with three Florida Congresspersons -- Senator Marco Rubio, Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart -- who accused President Barack Obama of allowing Bey and Jay to violate the law.
"U.S. law clearly bans tourism to Cuba by American citizens because it provides money to a cruel, repressive and murderous regime,” Rubio said in a statement. "Since their inception, the Obama administration’s 'people to people' cultural exchange programs have been abused by tourists who have no interest in the Cuban people’s freedom and either don’t realize or don’t care that they’re essentially funding the regime’s systematic trampling of people’s human rights."
Ouch. Jay-Z took the criticism personally, and on Thursday, released a new song that addresses the controversy. Listen to "Open Letter" below. (Warning: The song contains explicit, NSFW content.)
In his rap, Jay-Z says he "got White House clearance" for the trip, and he implies that Obama personally pulled strings to authorize it. ("Obama said, chill, you gonna get me impeached, but you don't need this s--t anyway, chill with me on the beach.") This didn't do much to appease his government critics, but it did put the President on the spot.
In an attempt to clear things up, White House press secretary Jay Carney told the press that the Treasury authorized the visit, and that the White House was not involved.
"I guess nothing rhymes with 'treasury'...I am absolutely saying that the White House, from the President on down, had nothing to do with anybody's travel to Cuba," he said. (You can watch the video from the press conference below, which is kind of amusing.)
Bottom line: Jay-Z and Beyonce's trip was authorized by the Treasury department for "cultural purposes." Other celebrities have gotten away with this in the past, probably without the President personally pulling strings. We know that Jay-Z and Beyonce are friendly with Obama, but Jay-Z's rap sounds more like empty bragging than a secret Cuban-vacation conspiracy.
Then again, it's kind of weird that celebrities, unlike the rest of us mortals, can just go to Cuba whenever they want. It's a pretty big can of worms. And who loves a can of worms more than a D-list star? On Tuesday, actress Stacey Dash -- a defiant Republican in liberal Hollywood -- tried to take Jay and Bey to task, tweeting, "Do you care that The Jay Z"s have taken the capital you have given them and funded a communist oppressive regime?"
We know what Jay would say to that. In fact, he said it in the song: "I'm in Cuba I love Cubans/This communist talk is so confusing, when it's from China the very mic that I'm using."