Trip, song an open slap to Cuban refugees, dissenters
Picture a peaceful protest calling for an end to police violence and brutality. Suddenly, a barrage of police batons and gun butts shower down upon spectators and participants. People are then thrown indiscriminately in overcrowded and unsanitary jail cells. On the streets, underfed children walk past decrepit and decayed buildings to go home to their deteriorating homes, which they share with several other families.
These were not the images that hip-hop artist Beyoncé Knowles and her rapper husband, Jay-Z, saw on their bizarre March 31 trip to Cuba in celebration of their fifth anniversary.
At first glance, a celebrity visiting another country is no big deal, unless that celebrity is Jane Fonda or Dennis Rodman; however, the Carters’ trip to Cuba gave money to the oppressive Cuban regime that can now be used to further ensnare its people. Their images are now being used in Communist Cuban propaganda — propaganda that the Cuban people have no way of counteracting due to the lack of freedom of speech. Their careless and indifferent outlook to these issues shows a lack of either intelligence or sympathy in concern toward the Cuban plight.
Jay-Z defended his trip to Cuba in a new song called “Open Letter.”
Due to the 1960s embargo, US citizens are not allowed to travel to Cuba unless they have obtained a license for academic, journalistic, religious or cultural exchange purposes. In “Open Letter,” Jay-Z claims that he and his party received White House clearance for their trip to Cuba, but on April 17, President Barack Obama had a different story.
“I wasn’t familiar that they were taking the trip,” Obama said, “My understanding is I think they went through a group that organizes these educational trips down to Cuba. You know, this is not something the White House was involved with, we’ve got better things to do.”
Regardless of who authorized the trip, it was offensive to many Cuban-Americans. Senator Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a Cuban-American, has been an outspoken opponent of the trip.
“Well, I won’t rap it, but I’ll say, I mean, first of all, I think Jay-Z needs to get informed,” he said. “I think if Jay-Z was truly interested in the true state of affairs in Cuba, he would have met people that are being oppressed, including a hip-hop artist in Cuba who is right now being oppressed and persecuted and is undergoing a hunger strike because of his political lyrics. And I think he missed an opportunity. But that’s Jay-Z’s issue.”
According to Human Rights Watch, Cuba is the only country in Latin America that stifles all forms of political dissent. In Cuba, political dissidents are subject to criminal charges and are held without due process. Between January and August 2011, the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation documented 2,224 arbitrary detentions in which many prisoners were not even presented arrest orders to substantiate the arrest. Cuban citizens live in near isolation from the rest of the world because the Castro regime has control of all media outlets and restricts the use of outside information. Citizens must request from the government the right to travel off the island and requests are typically denied, particularly to outspoken advocates. The list of human rights violations could go on and on.
“The travel policies need to be tightened because they are being abused,” Rubio said. “These are tourist trips, and they are – what they’re doing is providing hard currency and funding so that a tyrannical regime can maintain its grip on the island of Cuba, and I think that’s wrong,” he said. “And quite frankly, I think it’s hypocritical of the people who took that trip because they didn’t go down there and meet with some of the people that are actually in trouble today.”
A true cultural exchange would have required seeing the oppression the Cuban government has placed upon its people.
“If they really wanted to know what was going on in Cuba, they should have met with some of the people that are suffering there, not simply smoke cigars and take a stroll down the street,” Rubio said.
The Carters’ trip was an exercise in ignorance. Next time Jay-Z decides to rap about expressing his freedom of speech and sticking it to the man, he should avoid it in the context of traveling to Cuba, the land of dictatorial power and restriction of unalienable rights. It just makes him look stupid.
Sarah Backer is a business sophomore and may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.