White House denies Obama had anything to do with rapper's visit to Cuba

politics | Apr 11, 2013 | By Martin Barillas

Presidential spokesman Jay Carney denied today that President Barack Obama had "nothing to do" with the controversial visit of singer Shawn Carter, also known as Jay-Z, to the communist island of Cuba. This was despite a tribute the rapper gave to the Chief Executive for inviting him to go to the island with which the U.S. has had no direct diplomatic ties for decades. Jay-Z went to Cuba in the company of his wife Beyonce, another celebrity dancer/singer, to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. “I’m in Cuba, I love Cubans. This communist talk is so confusing,” Jay-Z raps in 'Open Letter,' which was produced by Timbaland and Swizz Beatz.

The song also references folkster Bob Dylan’s song “Idiot Wind.” “[…] ‘Idiot Wind,’ the Bob Dylan of rap music. You’re an idiot, baby, you should’ve become a student. Oh, you gonna learn today.” Released on April 11, the rap 'Open Letter' crooned by Jay-Z says "I done turned Havana into Atlanta," and "[…] Boy from the hood, I got White House clearance… Politicians never did s—- for me except lie to me, distort history… They wanna give me jail time and a fine. Fine, let me commit a real crime.”

Later in the song, Jay-Z raps "Hear the freedom in my speech… Obama said, ‘Chill you gonna get me impeached. You don’t need this s—- anyway, chill with me on the beach.’”




Journalist Donovan Slack of POLITICO questioned spokesman Carney in the daily White House press briefing. "I just want to return to Beyonce and Jay-Z. Jay-Z released a rap today, I know the other day you said that Treasury was the one that cleared their trip, he suggested that he got White House permission – that he personally spoke with the president. I’ll just quote: 'I turned Havana into Atlanta. Boy from the hood, I got White House Clearance. Obama said chill you gonna get me impeached. You don’t need this expletive anyway, chill with me on the beach.'"

Carney responded on April 11, "I guess nothing rhymes with Treasury, because Treasury offers and gives licenses for travel, as you know, and the White House has nothing to do with it." And despite Jay-Z's testifying in his rap song, Carney claimed that Obama was not involved with the trip. Slack asked, "So are you saying that he did not, the president, did not have a conversation with Jay-Z?" A jocular Carney responded, "I am absolutely saying that the White House, from the president on down, had nothing to do with anybody's personal -- anybody's travel to Cuba. That is something that Treasury handles...it's a song, Donovan. The president did not communicate with Jay-Z over this trip."

The U.S. Treasury Department approved travelers' permits and the visit to Cuba solicited by the trip’s organizers as part of a cultural learning experience, but claimed officials were unaware that the celebrity couple would be attending. It is Treasury policy not to require organizers’ to provide a list of travelers. The Republican National Committee and Republican congressmen are demanding answers about the permission granted for the trip. Jay-Z and Beyonce were welcomed with wild applause and approval as they visited the island. 

Spokesman Carney had tried to distance the Obama administration from the trip earlier this week. RNC spokesperson Alexandra Franceschi said in a public statement, “Any chance Jay Carney can clear up this confusion?” Among the congressmen protesting the visit were Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), Rep. Ilean Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.). The U.S. has had 50-year trade embargo on the island nation, which has a history of supporting governments and armed political movements opposed to the U.S., as well as serial human rights abuses.

In contrast to rapper Jay-Z's experience on the island, Cuban human rights activists and artists are still persecuted by the Castro regime. For example, U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC co-founder and director Mauricio Claver-Carone noted thatrapper Ángel Yunier Remón Arzuaga was jailed last month in Cuba for lyrics denouncing the Cuban government. “It’s easy here in the freedom of the U.S. for Jay-Z to release a song full of bravado jabbing at his critics and President Obama, but in Cuba a young rapper Angel Remon Arzuaga, from the hip-hip duo ‘Los Hijos Que Nadie Quiso’ (‘The Unwanted Children’), is rotting away in prison for daring to criticize the Castro regime — that takes real bravado,” said Claver-Carone according to POLITICO.



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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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