The Treasury Department on Tuesday told Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.) that entertainers Beyonce and Jay-Z had a valid license to travel to Cuba.
In a letter obtained by The Hill, Assistant Treasury Secretary for Legislative Affairs Alastair Fitzpayne wrote that educational trips to Cuba are allowed under U.S. law under "people-to-people" licenses. Fitzpayne added that the two entertainers had one of these licenses from a group that arranges trips to Cuba.
"It is our understanding that the travelers in question traveled to Cuba pursuant to an educational exchange trip organized by a group authorized by OFAC [Office of Foreign Assets Control] to sponsor and organize programs to promote people-to-people contact in Cuba," Fitzpayne wrote.
Press reports have said a New York company, Academic Arrangements Abroad, is the licensed entity that set up Beyonce and Jay-Z to visit Cuba under a "people-to-people" license. These licenses allow anyone to visit the island nation, although the trips must be designed around meetings with civil society groups and average Cuban citizens, and generally must exclude visits with Cuban government officials.
The Treasury letter did not say which company arranged the visit for the famous couple, and did not say explicitly whether Treasury believes that the couple adhered to the terms of the license.
But it did say OFAC has a history of strictly enforcing these licenses. It also added that there are certain flexibilities that travelers can take while visiting Cuba, including some "off-hour" time spent in the country that does not have to be educational.
"OFAC does not restrict the subject matter of the educational activities so long as they are designed to result in meaningful interaction with the Cuban people, and travelers pursuing a full-time schedule of educational exchange activities may engage in non-educational activities off-hours," it said.
Fitzpayne also said Treasury fully enforces current law, and that tourism is strictly prohibited by law.
"We want to assure you that OFAC adheres strictly to the requirement in the Trade Sanctions Reform and Export Enhancement Act of 2000 that no license be issued for travel to Cuba for tourist activities, as defined in the Act," the letter said.
Fitzpayne added that OFAC does not request the identifies of travelers on each trip arranged by a licensed organization, but says these groups are required to put together travel itineraries that comply with the law.
Ros-Lehtinen had an immediate reply, accusing the Obama administration of not being serious in enforcing the law.
"If the tourist activities undertaken by Beyonce and Jay-Z in Cuba are classified as an educational exchange trip, then it is clear that the Obama administration is not serious about denying the Castro regime an economic lifeline," she said.
"That was a wedding anniversary vacation that was not even disguised as a cultural exchange program."