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
May 8, 2013 -- Updated 0946 GMT (1746 HKT)
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
September 20, 2014 -- Updated 1624 GMT (0024 HKT)
John Sutter boarded a leaky oyster boat in Connecticut with a captain who can't swim as he set off to get world leaders to act on climate change
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2322 GMT (0722 HKT)
Is ballet dying? CNN spoke with Isabella Boylston, a principal dancer at the American Ballet Theatre, about the future of the art form.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 2147 GMT (0547 HKT)
Sally Kohn says it's time we take climate change as seriously as we do warfare in the Middle East
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1302 GMT (2102 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah says an Oklahoma state representative's hateful remarks were rightfully condemned by religious leaders..
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1922 GMT (0322 HKT)
No matter how much planning has gone into U.S. military plans to counter the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, the Arab public isn't convinced that anything will change, says Geneive Abdo
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1544 GMT (2344 HKT)
President Obama's strategy for destroying ISIS seems to depend on a volley of air strikes. That won't be enough, says Haider Mullick.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1303 GMT (2103 HKT)
Paul Begala says Hillary Clinton has plenty of good reasons not to jump into the 2016 race now
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1501 GMT (2301 HKT)
Scotland decided to trust its 16-year-olds to vote in the biggest question in its history. Americans, in contrast, don't even trust theirs to help pick the county sheriff. Who's right?
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0157 GMT (0957 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says spanking is an acceptable form of disciplining a child, as long as you follow the rules.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1547 GMT (2347 HKT)
Frida Ghitis says the foiled Australian plot shows ISIS is working diligently to taunt the U.S. and its allies.
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 1958 GMT (0358 HKT)
Young U.S. voters by and large just do not see the midterm elections offering legitimate choices because, in their eyes, Congress has proven to be largely ineffectual, and worse uncaring, argues John Della Volpe
September 19, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Steven Holmes says spanking, a practice that is ingrained in our culture, accomplishes nothing positive and causes harm.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1831 GMT (0231 HKT)
Sally Kohn says America tried "Cowboy Adventurism" as a foreign policy strategy; it failed. So why try it again?
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1427 GMT (2227 HKT)
Van Jones says the video of John Crawford III, who was shot by a police officer in Walmart, should be released.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 1448 GMT (2248 HKT)
NASA will need to embrace new entrants and promote a lot more competition in future, argues Newt Gingrich.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 2315 GMT (0715 HKT)
If U.S. wants to see real change in Iraq and Syria, it will have to empower moderate forces, says Fouad Siniora.
September 18, 2014 -- Updated 0034 GMT (0834 HKT)
Mark O'Mara says there are basic rules to follow when interacting with law enforcement: respect their authority.
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1305 GMT (2105 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Congress has rebuked the NFL on domestic violence issue, but why not a federal judge?
September 16, 2014 -- Updated 1149 GMT (1949 HKT)
Mel Robbins says the only person you can legally hit in the United States is a child. That's wrong.
September 15, 2014 -- Updated 1723 GMT (0123 HKT)
Eric Liu says seeing many friends fight so hard for same-sex marriage rights made him appreciate marriage.
ADVERTISEMENT