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Gregory Kane: In defense of Jay-Z, Beyonce and Cuban tourism

Wouldn't it be downright odd, if not disturbingly weird, that it would take a visit by rapper Sean Carter -- better known as Jay-Z -- and singer Beyonce Knowles to change U.S. policy toward Cuba?

The couple decided to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary with a trip to Cuba. And, as several Cuban-American congressmen and one congresswoman pointed out, such trips are illegal.

Americans aren't allowed to tour Cuba; we've imposed an embargo on the island that is now more than 60 years old. As a Republican every bit as conservative as the ones protesting Carter and Knowles visiting Cuba, I say it's time for those policies to change.

Full disclosure: I've visited Cuba at least three times, with a group of journalists. Our trip was sponsored by the Institute for Advanced Journalism Studies, which is located on the campus of Morgan State University in Baltimore.

As our trip was for journalistic purposes -- darn do I love that First Amendment! -- we were approved for the travel. On my first trip, I found myself walking around Havana with two characters who spoke little English.

My Spanish was limited to, "Donde esta el bano?"

I had a heck of a time convincing these guys I was an American journalist looking for a story and not some tourist trolling for one of the young prostitutes that work downtown Havana.

Eventually, I ended up writing a story about how I was unable to convince these two mooks that I was there to get a story.

A common refrain from my two companions was "la leche" -- milk. Cuban babies, they were able to get me to understand, needed milk. Milk was in short supply. Why?

Because of the embargo, they told me.

Cuban leaders blame many of their island's financial woes on the embargo. Were we to end it, and those woes remained, it would be clear that the fault lay with the leaders, not the embargo.

Justification for the embargo and travel ban goes something like what Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said in a recent news story: "U.S. law clearly bans tourism to Cuba by American citizens because it provides money to a cruel, repressive and murderous regime."

The Castro regime is indeed all those things, but "cruel" and "murderous" are two words that can be used to describe anti-Castro Cubans living on our shores who have committed terrorist acts against Cuba and Cubans.

And there are regimes that are just as "cruel, repressive and murderous" as Cuba's, if not more so, where Americans are allowed to travel.

Freedom House's list of the most repressive countries for the year 2012 reveals nine that are considered worse than Cuba. Among them are Saudi Arabia -- where Americans are allowed to travel -- and North Korea.

Didn't some guy named Dennis Rodman visit North Korea and its nut-job leader Kim Jong Un? And he did it without taking the heat Carter and Knowles have had to take.

Canadians can visit Cuba. So can Mexicans and Italians and Britons and Poles and Russians and Japanese and Chinese and Brazilians and Danes and Greeks and Uzbekistanis and, well, fill in name of national from a country of your choice here.

The only country whose citizens can't visit Cuba hail from the one country that claims to be the freest on the planet.

According to news reports, the Treasury Department approved the Carter-Knowles trip as "educational travel."

Perhaps the couple wanted to "educate" themselves about why their country bans traveling to Cuba, and why some in this country so stubbornly cling to a policy that, for more than 60 years, clearly hasn't worked.

Examiner Columnist Gregory Kane is a Pulitzer-nominated news and opinion journalist who has covered people and politics from Baltimore to the Sudan.