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
December 19, 2014 -- Updated 2134 GMT (0534 HKT)
President Obama has been flexing his executive muscles lately despite Democrat's losses, writes Gloria Borger
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1951 GMT (0351 HKT)
Jeff Yang says the film industry's surrender will have lasting implications.
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 2113 GMT (0513 HKT)
Newt Gingrich: No one should underestimate the historic importance of the collapse of American defenses in the Sony Pictures attack.
December 10, 2014 -- Updated 1255 GMT (2055 HKT)
Dean Obeidallah asks how the genuine Stephen Colbert will do, compared to "Stephen Colbert"
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1734 GMT (0134 HKT)
Some GOP politicians want drug tests for welfare recipients; Eric Liu says bailed-out execs should get equal treatment
December 18, 2014 -- Updated 1342 GMT (2142 HKT)
Louis Perez: Obama introduced a long-absent element of lucidity into U.S. policy on Cuba.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 1740 GMT (0140 HKT)
The slaughter of more than 130 children by the Pakistani Taliban may prove as pivotal to Pakistan's security policy as the 9/11 attacks were for the U.S., says Peter Bergen.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1600 GMT (0000 HKT)
The Internet is an online extension of our own neighborhoods. It's time for us to take their protection just as seriously, says Arun Vishwanath.
December 16, 2014 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says we must speak out for the right of children to education -- and peace
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 1023 GMT (1823 HKT)
Russia's economic woes just seem to be getting worse. How will President Vladimir Putin respond? Frida Ghitis gives her take.
December 17, 2014 -- Updated 0639 GMT (1439 HKT)
Australia has generally seen itself as detached from the threat of terrorism. The hostage incident this week may change that, writes Max Barry.
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2020 GMT (0420 HKT)
Thomas Maier says the trove of letters the Kennedy family has tried to guard from public view gives insight into the Kennedy legacy and the history of era.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1456 GMT (2256 HKT)
Will Congress reform the CIA? It's probably best not to expect much from Washington. This is not the 1970s, and the chances for substantive reform are not good.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 2101 GMT (0501 HKT)
From superstorms to droughts, not a week goes by without a major disruption somewhere in the U.S. But with the right planning, natural disasters don't have to be devastating.
December 15, 2014 -- Updated 1453 GMT (2253 HKT)
Would you rather be sexy or smart? Carol Costello says she hates this dumb question.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 2253 GMT (0653 HKT)
A story about Pope Francis allegedly saying animals can go to heaven went viral late last week. The problem is that it wasn't true. Heidi Schlumpf looks at the discussion.
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1550 GMT (2350 HKT)
Democratic leaders should wake up to the reality that the party's path to electoral power runs through the streets, where part of the party's base has been marching for months, says Errol Louis
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2123 GMT (0523 HKT)
David Gergen: John Brennan deserves a national salute for his efforts to put the report about the CIA in perspective
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 1426 GMT (2226 HKT)
Anwar Sanders says that in some ways, cops and protesters are on the same side
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
A view by Samir Naji, a Yemeni who was accused of serving in Osama bin Laden's security detail and imprisoned for nearly 13 years without charge in Guantanamo Bay
December 14, 2014 -- Updated 1738 GMT (0138 HKT)
S.E. Cupp asks: How much reality do you really want in your escapist TV fare?
December 11, 2014 -- Updated 1828 GMT (0228 HKT)
Rip Rapson says the city's 'Grand Bargain' saved pensions and a world class art collection by pulling varied stakeholders together, setting civic priorities and thinking outside the box
December 13, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
Glenn Schwartz says the airing of the company's embarrassing emails might wake us up to the usefulness of talking in-person instead of electronically
December 12, 2014 -- Updated 2233 GMT (0633 HKT)
The computer glitch that disrupted air traffic over the U.K. on Friday was a nuisance, but not dangerous, says Les Abend
ADVERTISEMENT