'Barack Obama had nothing to do with Jay-Z's Cuba trip'
Washington: US President Barack Obama had nothing to do with rapper Jay-Z and pop diva Beyonce's trip to Cuba, the White House said on Thursday after the hip hop icon released a song about the controversy.
"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," press secretary Jay Carney said at the daily briefing.
Tourism to Cuba is banned under Washington's 50-year-old economic embargo against the island, but it is possible to obtain a license from the Treasury Department for religious, academic, educational and cultural journeys.
Responding to a query from two Cuban-American members of Congress, the Treasury Department said on Tuesday that Jay-Z, Beyonce and members of their family were authorised to travel to Cuba for educational purposes.
At Thursday's press briefing, Politico reporter Donovan Slack recited some lyrics from Jay-Z's song about the incident, "Open Letter", and challenged Carney to provide an explanation.
"I turned Havana to Atlanta... Boy from the hood I got White House clearance...," Jay-Z says in the song.
"I guess nothing rhymes with Treasury," the press secretary quipped.
"It's a song, Donovan. The President did not communicate with Jay-Z over this trip," Carney insisted.
Jay-Z and Beyonce, whose Cuba trip coincided with their fifth wedding anniversary, campaigned for Obama's re-election in 2012.
"Cuba's tourism industry is wholly state-controlled, therefore, US dollars spent on Cuban tourism directly fund the machinery of oppression that brutally represses the Cuban people," Florida Representatives Mario Diaz-Balart and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, both Republicans, said in a letter to the Treasury Department after the couple's visit became public.
Some members of the Cuban exile community said the visit was used for propaganda purposes by the regime in Havana.
The New York Times, however, said Cuban authorities did not know about the pair's arrival until the last minute and noted that Beyonce visited a children's theatre group and watched dance-company rehearsals during their three-day stay.