Dozens of Cubans crowded around R&B diva Beyoncé and husband-rapper Jay-Z as they toured Old Havana on Thursday after celebrating their fifth wedding anniversary with island staples like daiquiris, and rice and black beans.
“People outside were desperate to see them and we had to call security, we had to call the police,” said La Guarida restaurant waitress Vivian Aimerich, who helped serve the superstars during their anniversary dinner Wednesday night.
The couple drew even bigger crowds Thursday as they strolled the streets of Old Havana like any other tourists, with Beyoncé wearing a short summer dress and big sunglasses and Jay-Z smoking a cigar and wearing a straw hat, shorts, and sneakers.
They visited the Havana Cathedral, built between 1748 and 1777, and walked around the cobblestoned streets of the colonial-era neighborhood, declared a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1982.
Beyoncé and Jay-Z spoke with several Cubans during their walk but declined to answer journalists’ questions on their visit to the communist-ruled island.
The government-run CubaSí website reported the couple is on a tourist visit, although that would be illegal under the half-century old U.S. embargo. Washington does issue special licenses, however, for cultural, religious, academic, and other types of visits.
ICM talent agency in Los Angeles said it had no information on the visit. Beyoncé’s publicist, Yvette Noel-Schure in New York, did not return El Nuevo Herald calls.
The superstar couple was first spotted in Cuba on Wednesday night as they entered La Guarida, “The Hideout,” a restaurant on an upper floor of a crumbling early 1900s palace where the hit Cuban film Strawberry and Chocolate was filmed.
“They were recognized downstairs and the whole street filled up with people shouting her name until she went out on the balcony and waved to them,” Aimerich told El Nuevo Herald by phone from the restaurant.
“We knew that someone important was coming, but we had no idea,” she added. The restaurant, which has become an almost obligatory stop for tourists in Havana, is known as a “paladar” because it is privately owned. Most restaurants in Cuba are state-run.
Beyoncé, Jay-Z, their mothers, and some of their bodyguards spent nearly three hours in La Guarida celebrating the couple’s fifth wedding anniversary, Aimerich said. They were married April 4, 2008 in France.
They drank daiquiris, rum, and wine, snacked on shrimp and shared a big plate of white rice and black beans, the waitress reported. Beyoncé had the chicken roasted in honey and lemon, and Jay-Z finished off a fish filet with tomato-based sauce.
Restaurant staffers had their photos taken with the visitors before they left, she added, escorted by police.
The 32-year-old Beyoncé Giselle Knowles has won 17 Grammys, performed at the Super Bowl halftime show this year, and sang the national anthem at President Barack Obama’s inauguration in February. Jay-Z, born Shawn Corey Carter, has created a business empire that stretches from fashion to a part ownership of the NBA’s Brooklyn Nets.
La Guarida, in the Havana Centro neighborhood, flourished when it opened in 1996, when a bankrupt Cuba was allowing some private enterprise and Western tourism to make up for the loss of the Soviet Union’s massive subsidies.
It closed in 2009 as the island’s economy recovered and ruler Fidel Castro cracked down on the private sector with tax and health inspectors but reopened a few years ago and has been attracting a steady stream of U.S. and other visitors.
It now displays photos of famous visitors, such as Will Smith, Jack Nicholson, Kevin Spacey, Naomi Campbell, Jodie Foster, Danny Glover, the queen of Spain, and Spanish actor Javier Bardem.
Anti-Castro activist Mauricio Claver-Carone wrote in his blog, Capitol Hill Cubans, on Thursday that the Cuban government had “seized on the trip’s propaganda value” by posting pictures of Beyoncé and Jay-Z in Old Havana on the CubaSí pages.
Will they also meet with dissident musicians or jailed opposition activists, asked Claver-Carone, who is also executive director of the U.S. Cuba Democracy political action committee in Washington.
“Or will they just wine and dine at the Castro regime’s hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs fulfilling a propaganda dream for Cuba’s brutal dictatorship a la Dennis Rodman,” he added, referring to the retired basketball star’s recent trip to North Korea.
It’s unclear whether their trip to Cuba will impact Beyoncé’s Miami concert at AmericanAirlines Arena on July 10 as part of her Mrs. Carter Show World Tour. Jay-Z will perform Aug. 16 at Sun Life Stadium as part of the Legends of the Summer tour with Justin Timberlake.
The news of their visit came in the same week that famous Cuban blogger Yoani Sánchez made several well-attended appearances in Miami to talk about human-rights abuses and lack of basic freedoms on the Communist-ruled island. Miami is home to hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles who fled the Castro regime starting in 1959.
Jay-Z at times has mentioned Cuba in his raps. In Otis, with Kanye West, he raps, “Welcome to Havana smoking cubanos with Castro in cabanas.” And in his latest hit with Timberlake, Suit & Tie, he raps this line: “Green card for the Cuban linx.”