Skip to main content

Jay-Z and Beyoncé's trip to Cuba isn't the problem, the embargo is

By Sandra Guzmán, Special to CNN
updated 5:46 AM EDT, Wed May 8, 2013
Celebrities Beyonce and Jay-Z look out at the crowd from their balcony at the Saratoga Hotel in Havana on Friday, April 5. The couple were photographed in Havana last week, apparently celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary on the island. <a href='http://politicalticker.blogs.cnn.com/2013/04/06/lawmakers-ask-why-beyonce-and-jay-z-went-to-cuba/'>Two Republican lawmakers</a> are asking a government agency to look into a recent trip to Cuba by the couple, suggesting they violated restrictions on travel to the communist island. Celebrities Beyonce and Jay-Z look out at the crowd from their balcony at the Saratoga Hotel in Havana on Friday, April 5. The couple were photographed in Havana last week, apparently celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary on the island. Two Republican lawmakers are asking a government agency to look into a recent trip to Cuba by the couple, suggesting they violated restrictions on travel to the communist island.
HIDE CAPTION
Cubans welcome Beyonce and Jay-Z
Cubans welcome Beyonce and Jay-Z
Cubans welcome Beyonce and Jay-Z
Cubans welcome Beyonce and Jay-Z
Cubans welcome Beyonce and Jay-Z
Cubans welcome Beyonce and Jay-Z
<<
<
1
2
3
4
5
6
>
>>
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Beyoncé stopped by GMA and said the reaction to their trip to Cuba was "quite shocking"
  • Sandra Guzmán: "It's 2013 and we need to debate Cuban policy earnestly"
  • "We hardly hear from normal cubanos and other average Americans on this issue"
  • "Real democratic progress in Cuba will happen when the gates of travel open"

Editor's note: Sandra Guzmán is an award winning journalist, blogger, media consultant, and author of, "The New Latina's Bible: The Modern Latina's Guide to Love, Spirituality, Family & La Vida." Find her at www.sandraguzman.com

(CNN) -- When does a romantic anniversary trip with your hubby to celebrate five years of marital bliss become an international kerfuffle, complete with calls for you to be prosecuted for treason? Well, when it's Cuba, where Americans are banned from traveling to for tourism, thanks to one of the most enduring embargoes in the history of mankind.

Yesterday, Beyoncé stopped by ABC's "Good Morning America" and confessed the outcry over her and Jay Z's trip to Havana was "quite shocking." Welcome to the land of cray cray, Bey.

Emotions run deep, high, and very bizarre when it comes to the subject of Cuba. When photos of the celebrity couple strolling Havana were released, a political tumult of epic proportions erupted in Florida. Sen. Marco Rubio and a small band of conservative Cuban-American politicos released a statement vociferously demanding an investigation of the trip by the president and the Treasury Department.

Sandra Guzman
Sandra Guzman

One anti-Castro activist went as far as to threaten to file a petition against the celebrity couple to be formally prosecuted. Hova and Beyoncé's crime? Chilling in Havana.

There's little doubt the collateral damage and suffering on both sides of the Florida Straits -- families divided, innocents killed, fortunes lost -- has been profound. But it's high time we stop the madness and bring sanity to this debate.

For a long time, I've been of the opinion that the Cuban embargo policy in general is for Cubans on the island and the Diaspora to resolve. Those of us who have not suffered directly should stay out of it and let cubanos figure their way out of this mess. But, what happens when political views of a few trample on an entire nation? And, what are the ramifications when these opinions border on the irrational?

Beyonce: Cuba was a 'beautiful trip'
Marco Rubio: Jay-Z's Cuba trip 'hypocritical'
More Americans are visiting Cuba
Should sanctions against Cuba be lifted?

The few but very influential pro-embargo lobby have put a stranglehold on a lucid discussion surrounding Cuba. Five decades of failed policy later, our nation is being held hostage unable to have a cogent discussion on anything Cuba-related.

The U.S. embargo has not and will not work. Put in place in 1962 by President John F. Kennedy, the policy is stuck in a time warp that has nothing to do with modern-day reality. The most enduring embargo in modern day history is a remnant of a Cold War past when the Soviet Union was the enemy and the world was on the brink of nuclear war. The thinking was that financial sanctions, which included a ban on travel by American citizens, would collapse the island economy and force people to revolt against Fidel Castro.

Over the years, these sanctions have been eased or toughened depending on political winds. In 1992, disgraced New Jersey Rep. Robert Torricelli was behind one the cruelest acts which banned, among many things, food and medicine sales to Cuba and prevented Cuban-American families from sending cash to their relatives. These were tough times and seeing many friends and families suffer because they couldn't visit their elderly mothers more than once every three years, or being prevented from sending them needed supplies, was very painful. Restrictions have eased under President Barack Obama but there is still a major ban.

Enter Jay Z and Beyoncé.

It's 2013 and we need to debate Cuban policy earnestly. Members of Congress must stop the cowardice around the issue and stop humoring the delusions of passionate folks stuck in the 1960s for political votes and favor. The pro-embargo folks are ignoring the policy's epic failure and fail to recognize that U.S. policy has played into the hands of the Castro brothers, who have sinisterly used it to make the case to their people that if Cuba is starving and the island economy can't grow, it's because of this U.S. policy.

In 1995, I won an Emmy for producing a show that explored the Cuban embargo. What was special about the program, "Embargo Contra Cuba," was that it gave an opportunity for the many different opinions in the Cuban debate to be heard. The voices of everyday Cuban families caught in the quagmire of policies that make their family members the "enemy" were allowed to surface. These are the folks -- cubanos to the core -- who will tell you, if they had a mic and a safe forum, that the current U.S. policy is stupid.

We hardly hear from these normal cubanos and for that matter, other average Americans on this issue. That void is tragic.

Cuba policy is steeped in dysfunction on both sides. Last week, the State Department denied Fidel Castro's niece Mariela Castro a visa to travel to Philadelphia to receive an award for her gay activism, no reason given. A State Department official said visa applications are confidential.

Fifty-one years into the policy, another Castro is in power and the island is still communist. The U.S. still trades with communist China despite its human rights violations. The U.S. still trades with communist Vietnam. We, the hip-hop generation, see right through the political hypocrisy and we want change.

There are some bright lights in Congress giving hope. U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor held a news conference after visiting Cuba on a three-day fact-finding trip recently. The Tampa Democrat announced that she found the island has made economic reforms and called for the United States to promote these positive changes. Castor is part of a new group of audacious politicians, some from Florida, who are pushing to normalize relations and bring constructive dialogue with Cuba.

Obama stands to make history by using his pulpit to encourage a more sensible dialogue around a Cuba policy that has been futile. I doubt that he'll step into this issue willingly. It will take gigantic political cojones to do so and on Cuba, sadly, the president hasn't expressed a willingness to "go there." The best hope for sanity rests on the voices of reasonable Americans and Cuban-Americans to demand change.

Real democratic progress in Cuba will happen when the gates of travel are opened. You want democratic transformation in Cuba? There's nothing more compelling than a bunch of celebrities sporting Prada bags in one hand and smoking puros in the other to inspire revolutions of capitalistic proportions.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Sandra Guzmán.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT