The Carters, rapper/mogul Jay-Z and his wife Beyoncé, found themselves caught in an international controversy after vacationing on the communist island of Cuba for their fifth wedding anniversary.
Rumors and allegations swarmed the couple’s visit as photos were released of the two touring the sites of Old Havana. Were they guests of the Castros? Was their trip sending the wrong message? Did they acquire the necessary travel visas from the U.S. Treasury Department?
Amid outcry and outrage heard across the nation, the denouncement from Cuban Americans rang loudly. Travel to Cuba by American citizens being a federal offense, Republican Florida representatives Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart issued a letter of investigation into the couple’s visit to the communist nation.
Jay-Z true to his battle rap roots, voiced his response to critics over a Swizz Beatz and Timbaland produced track:
“This communist talk is so confusing/When it’s from China, the very mic that I’m using”
While the moment could be dismissed as a celebrity gaffe and yet another diss track to be easily forgotten in the annals of celebrity pop culture, it provides an opportunity for lawmakers and citizens alike to revisit the United States’ 51-year-old economic embargo against the Republic of Cuba.
The embargo stands as one of the last remaining vestiges of American Cold War policies. Despite the fall of the Soviet Union and Fidel Castro’s advanced age and illness forcing him to relinquish leadership to his younger brother Raúl, the regime still stands. Sanctions have neither quelled human rights abuses nor coerced the communist country into embracing democracy and are widely condemned as a failure of U.S. foreign policy.
Even Cubans in opposition to the communist government, among them dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez, support an end to the U.S. embargo against Cuba saying the embargo is “anti-Cuban and not anti-Castro.”
When I traveled to Cuba in 2010 with the US Women and Cuba Collaboration to meet with Afro-Cuban women to discuss gender and racial equality, signs of the embargo were evident even before arriving at our destination. Cuban-American families brought with them an abundance of “gifts” for their relatives mainly clothing and household items many of us take for granted. On the island itself universal healthcare is juxtaposed by the lack of access to high-quality medical equipment and medicines (most of which carry U.S. patents and therefore are prohibited) and the benefit of free education comes at a cost of limited school supplies.
American policy is not only aberrant in comparison to the rest of the world that regularly trades with Cuba, but it highlights the stark contradictions in U.S. foreign policy.
As Jay-Z rhymed, the United States has normalized, albeit at times contentious, relations with communist China. Moreover, its vow to penalize Cuba for its humanitarian record brings into question its relationship with other noted oppressive regimes such as Saudi Arabia and Bahrain whom the American government counts as close allies.
After five decades the US-Cuban embargo has only succeeded in pushing residents of the island deeper into poverty and with American economic constraints unable to sway Cuban political will, it is time for a new approach to Cuba. While visiting a school in Matanzas, Cuba that trains students to become art, music, and dance teachers in efforts to preserve Cuban culture, I was struck by the talent of this singer and composer who performed his song “El Momento Es Ahora” (The Moment Is Now). Indeed it is.