Jay-Z composes a response to the critics of his trip:
Full lyrics here. A reader talks about his trip:
I was a senior in high school in 2001. That year, I was taking a class on Caribbean Civilization, which included a trip to Cuba. September 11th was the second week of school, and all international trips were canceled in its wake. My parents, after realizing how much money they were saving (I was also slated to go on a band trip to Italy), decided that they’d always wanted to go to Cuba. The school trip was legit, with educational visas and all. My parents and I took the easy route: we drove to Canada. From there it was an easy flight to Havana (on Air Cubana, but on a leased Airbus as opposed to, say, a Soviet-era Tupolev). We had a lovely week in Cuba (perhaps not as educational as if I’d gone on an exchange with my class) and certainly broke the travel ban (which is really a spending money ban).
At the time, everything in Cuba was available for US dollars, so we had no issue paying for anything. We were with a tour group, but we were four of the six in the group, so we were able to cajole the driver to let us drop in on state-run stores, fruit stands and the like. We were certainly tourists. But there was something fulfilling to flouting a ludicrous ban.
When we arrived, our passports weren’t stamped, but customs gave us a separate sheet of paper to get stamped (this is SOP for Americans visiting). Coming back in to the States from Canada there was no passport check at the time, and customs in northern Vermont thought we were a family coming back from a week in Quebec. (We were, we just happened to jet south for a few days.) At the time, enforcement of the ban was very sporadic. Apparently, if you were caught, you’d get a letter telling you that you were being fined $11,000. If you ignored it, you’d get a second, strongly-worded letter. If you ignored it, the Feds would go do something more useful – which is, of course, pretty much anything.
Apparently, the Bush administration went and staked out some airports (good use of government resources, guys!) but that has lapsed in the Obama presidency. In fact, there have been efforts to have the fine applied to push the law into the courts (it’s dubious whether it would withstand constitutional scrutiny, especially in the current state where people with family in Cuba are regulated differently than everybody else) but even open flouting has not been punished. And when Forbes is publishing opinion pieces by AEI guys arguing the ban is folly, well, there you go.
In any case, had Jay-Z and Beyonce been caught, they would have been hit with a $55,000 fine. Which I’m sure they could have afforded. Maybe the only way to get rid of the ban is to say that the fine amounts to a tax, and the Republicans in the House will all jump up to vote it down.
I travelled to Cuba almost exactly one year ago, and it was eye-opening. I didn’t need to obtain special permission from my government to travel there because Canada, despite its conservative government’s open opposition to the Castro regime, permits its citizens to freely travel to Cuba.
It’s a beautiful country, and full of natural wealth just waiting to be exploited. (We drove passed several Chinese- and Canadian-run oil wells on the way to Havana.) But its greatest resource is its people. Cuba is a country with a bright future ahead of it, because its people, while poor, are very well-educated. The Communist regime in Cuba does a lot of things wrong, but education is not one of them. Education at all levels is free for everyone in Cuba, and people take advantage of this. Sure they teach a specific version of history etc., but despite the government’s efforts to inculcate loyalty to the Revolution, the young people are just not buying it, much to the chagrin of their elders.
And things are changing. Our tour guide into Havana operated a private taxi company – he owned his taxi and made his own money. He was a fountain of information, actually the main source for most of what I’m writing. He believed that Raul Castro was going to accelerate the pace of change, because unlike Fidel, Raul is not an ideologue. He wants two things; for his regime to survive him, and for Cuba to thrive.
The fact that Raul claims to be stepping down in a few years offers hope that America might finally end its ghastly embargo, which succeeds in doing nothing but keeping Cuba’s educated and industrious population poor and driving a museum of classic cars from the 50s (which is very cool for visitors, but very uncool for them). Our guide claimed that the government just uses the embargo to stay in power anyway – they have the ultimate excuse. Every economic woe can be blamed on the embargo. They even blame natural disasters on the embargo he joked. (Or maybe he wasn’t joking?)
So the embargo is doubly ineffective – it impoverishes Cuba’s population by robbing them of their natural trading partner, and it gives the Communist government a trump card it can always play against all criticism. That’s pretty much a textbook lose-lose.