The White House has been forced to deny that President Barack Obama was involved in granting clearance to the hip-hop mogul Jay-Z and his wife, Beyoncé, for a recent trip to Cuba.
The couple were criticised by Republican lawmakers for their choice of holiday destination after they visited Havana to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary last week. The 43-year-old rapper responded to the controversy by releasing a song containing the lyrical claim “I got White House clearance”.
On Thursday White House spokesman Jay Carney assured journalists that the White House was not involved, and that the Treasury is responsible for granting travel licences. “I guess nothing rhymes with Treasury,” Mr Carney said. “The White House and the President had nothing to do with anybody’s travel to Cuba. That is something the Treasury handles.”
The song, “Open Letter”, was reportedly recorded on Wednesday night with the assistance of producer Timbaland. Jay-Z published it on his website the following morning.
“I done turned Havana to Atlanta, Guayabera shirts and bandanas,” he raps in its opening lines. “Obama said, ‘Chill, you gon’ get me impeached, you don’t need this s*** anyway – chill with me on the beach.’ ”
Last Thursday, Jay-Z and Beyoncé were pictured strolling through Old Havana, where they were greeted by vast crowds of Cuban fans as they visited some of the city’s best-known landmarks. A day later, a pair of Florida Republicans, whose congressional districts have large Cuban-American populations, demanded to know whether the couple had obtained the necessary licence before travelling to Havana.
Under its 51-year-old economic embargo of the communist-led island nation, the US forbids Americans from doing business with Cuba – including travelling there without official permission. Congress members Ileana Ros-Lehtinen and Mario Diaz-Balart wrote to the director of the US Office of Foreign Assets Control to demand “information regarding the type of licence that Beyoncé and Jay-Z received... and who approved such travel”.
They claimed the Cuban government had used the couple for propaganda purposes and to promote tourism. “We represent a community of many who have been deeply and personally harmed by the Castro regime’s atrocities,” they wrote, “including former political prisoners and the families of murdered innocents.”
Speaking to CNN, Ros-Lehtinen suggested there were “a lot of better places” that the couple could have chosen to celebrate their anniversary. “No one is above the law,” she said.”
The US Treasury confirmed the couple’s visit was legal and that they had travelled with a group authorised to foster interaction between Cubans and Americans as part of an “educational exchange trip”.
Leisurely? The poetry test
Journalists scoffed when the White House spokesman Jay Carney suggested Jay-Z couldn’t find a rhyme for Treasury in his Cuba rap. But a search of the online rhyme dictionary RhymeZone left us scratching our heads too. Like orange and month, it would appear Treasury has no full rhymes. There are plenty of half-rhymes, though, so maybe Jay-Z should get a new dictionary.