In My Opinion

Fred Grimm: At least Jay-Z paid his own way to Cuba

Marco Rubio, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Debbie Wasserman Schultz and Mario Diaz-Balart have been complaining all week that the Havana travel agenda of Beyoncé and Jay-Z was too light on the “schedule of educational exchange activities” required to circumvent the Cuban travel embargo.

“That was a wedding anniversary vacation that was not even disguised as a cultural program,” Rep. Ros-Lehtinen said.

“I’m absolutely uncomfortable with the way, and concerned about, how not just Jay-Z and Beyoncé but some of the travel, the ‘people to people’ travel, that has been occurring in Cuba, has resulted,” Rep. Wasserman Schultz told the Sun-Sentinel.

And Sen. Rubio was at it over the weekend, complaining about the entertainers’ “hypocritical” pretense at cultural education while they were really just whooping it up as tourists.

After so many ineffective years, the Cuban travel embargo seems to have more to do with South Florida politics than regime change. (You might have noticed: the regime hasn’t changed.)

But about that issue of hypocrisy raised by Rubio. It’s just too strange to hear anyone in the vicinity of the U.S. Congress go off on a sanctimonious rant about foreign cultural and educational excursions that resemble grand vacations. At least, Beyoncé and Jay-Z paid their own way.

The American Israel Educational Foundation reportedly paid $10,000 a head to bring 30 members of Congress, their family members and their aides on one particular educational mission to Israel (part of the $1.5 million that AIEF spent on congressional junkets in 2011). The cultural exchange culminated with Kansas Rep Kevin Yoder, 36 (once voted “Hottest Freshman in Congress”) skinny dipping in the Sea of Galilee. Five other congressmen joined Yoder in the drunken education mission.

At least the Beyoncé and Jay-Z trip did not entail public nudity.

China, like Cuba, has accumulated an ignominious human-rights record, but that has not kept senior congressional staffers and members of Congress themselves from accepting all-expense paid junkets from the totalitarian state. The Washington Post reported that the Chinese government sponsored 221 such visits between 2005 and 2011. The visits included stays in luxury hotels and tours of the Great Wall and the Forbidden City. But while these may look like junkets, they were all officially designated “trips for cultural exchanges.” No fun allowed.

The Post counted 803 trips abroad by members of Congress and their staffers in that period paid for by foreign governments — some, like Saudi Arabia, not so very democratic.

Meanwhile, purported non-profits that you and I might confuse with special-interest lobbies finance some very lavish “educational missions” for the folks in Congress, sending them to some warm, exotic destinations, including the beaches of Costa Rica.

Last year, Florida’s Sixth Congressional District U.S. Rep. Cliff Stearns faced an opponent who made much of Stearns’ 27 all-expense-paid junkets since 2002. Stearns lost the election, making him available the next time Beyoncé and Jay-Z need Washington’s expert hypocritical travel advice.

Read more Fred Grimm stories from the Miami Herald

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