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Exposed: Another USAID failure to instigate unrest in Cuba

Cuban fans sing during a hip-hop concert in Havana. (AP Photo/Ramon Espinosa)

Yet again, The Associated Press exposed the United States in its attempts to covertly spark change in Cuba. First it was a Twitter-like social media platform, now it was the country’s hip-hop scene. For two years the United States tried to grow a youth-led movement against the government by recruiting Cuban rappers, says the AP.

Problem is, the program was an utter failure. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee, responded to the news by calling the program both “reckless” and “stupid.”

“The conduct described suggests an alarming lack of concern for the safety of the Cubans involved, and anyone who knows Cuba could predict it would fail,” Leahy said. “USAID never informed Congress about this and should never have been associated with anything so incompetent and reckless. It’s just plain stupid.”

The U.S. Agency for International Development-backed program put Cubans in danger and harmed grassroots gains made by artists. It was inspired by successful democratic gains in Serbia in 2000 the led to the downfall of former Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic. The use of concerts to rally Serbians against Milosevic were seen as a blueprint for Cuba, according to the report.

Initially, a Serbian contractor was utilized to start the movement in Cuba. Eventually, contractor Creative Associates took over the project. It is the same group that was exposed for running a similarly motivated program, this summer, that sought to foment unrest through social media.

Cuban rappers were unwittingly recruited through the program with the knowledge that there were connections to the U.S. government. Los Aldeanos, a rap group openly critical of the Castro government, were recruited to help produce an underground television project and provided political training.

“It’s unfortunate that we get pulled into this type of situation, when art is being made from the heart,” said Brian Rodriguez on his Facebook page, rapper for Los Aldeanos, in a response to the news. “The truth will never be tainted.

The Creative Associates team lobbied to get Los Aldeanos to open for Colombian superstar Juanes during his 2009 concert in Havana to no avail. However, they did get Juanes to give a shoutout to the group after the concert and pose for pictures with them after the show. Juanes too was unaware of the political games played behind his back.

A poorly conceived plan, people connected to the program were arrested or detained on six occasions, found the AP. Cuban authorities seized computers and hard drives. The plan slowly fell apart and members of Los Aldeanos now live in the U.S. due to strong pressure from the Cuban government.


About Author

Tom Murphy

Tom Murphy is a New Hampshire-based reporter for Humanosphere. Before joining Humanosphere, Tom founded and edited the aid blog A View From the Cave. His work has appeared in Foreign Policy, the Huffington Post, the Guardian, GlobalPost and Christian Science Monitor. He tweets at @viewfromthecave. Contact him at tmurphy[at]