This week, two of Barack Obama’s favorite celebrities, Jay-Z and Beyonce, headed to Cuba to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. The two music superstars toured the Communist paradise, heading to romantic Old Havana (they didn’t visit any political prisons), dined at La Guarida (they didn’t redistribute their dinner tips), posing with local schoolkids (who will grow up under political repression), and stopping by a Cuban cigar shop to pick up some gifts for Bill Clinton. Ok, this last activity is the only one they didn’t do.
They shouldn’t have been in Cuba, either morally or legally. Under American policy, an embargo covers travel to Cuba, requiring special government permission for journalistic, academic, or humanitarian missions. Simple tourism isn’t on the list. The idea behind the embargo is simple: Americans spending their tourism dollars in Cuba upholds an oppressive regime that continues to impoverish its own people.
But somehow Beyonce and Jay-Z got on the list. As it turns out, the US Treasury Department gave them permission for the “cultural trip.”
No surprise there – Hollywoodites routinely get permission to visit Cuba, even when the rest of us can’t. In 1998, Jack Nicholson headed to Cuba to befriend Castro, and the Joker came away impressed: “He is a genius. We spoke about everything.”
Back in 2001, head of CBS Les Moonves and several of his Hollywood friends headed over to Cuba, where they dined with Fidel Castro and hung out in the sun before heading to jazz clubs in the evening. While the federal government sent them letters about violating the travel ban, nothing was done about it. That same year, Kevin Costner headed over to Cuba to show Castro 13 Days, his film about the Cuban Missile Crisis. Costner promptly called it “an experience of a lifetime.”
In 2002, director Steven Spielberg headed to Cuba, where he dined with Castro. That trip was okayed by the US government for cultural purposes. “It was an opportunity to share his films and his values with the Cuban people,” said Spielberg’s office. Spielberg himself called the meeting “the eight most important hours of my life.”
That same year, Oliver Stone went to Cuba, and then did a 90-minute propaganda documentary on Castro, Comandante. Castro, said Stone, was “very selfless and moral – one of the world’s wisest men.”
It’s significantly more difficult for non-celebs to get to Cuba. That’s because non-royal Americans have to have an actual excuse to head over to the Communist island to bestow our wealth on that unfortunate population. Hollywoodites get special treatment because they are from Hollywood. It doesn’t matter whether it’s Clinton, Bush, or Obama – they are treated with kid gloves because they have the power of the camera behind them.
The problem with that power is that the very folks who wield it do so on behalf of dictators like Castro. It would be too easy to blame Jay-Z and Beyonce’s sunlit trip on their close relationship with President Obama. The truth is deeper: Washington D.C. insiders of both parties are afraid of offending Hollywood bigwigs. That means perks for Tinseltown stars. But more importantly, it means perks for the Communist leadership of Cuba that plays those stars like fish.
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