For more than two years, a US agency secretly infiltrated Cuba's underground hip-hop movement, recruiting unwitting rappers to spark a youth movement against the government, according to documents obtained by the AP. The idea was to use Cuban musicians "to break the information blockade" and build a network of young people seeking "social change." But the operation was amateurish and profoundly unsuccessful. On at least six occasions, Cuban authorities detained or interrogated people involved in the program; they also confiscated computer hardware, in some cases with info that jeopardized Cubans who likely had no idea they were caught up in a clandestine US operation. Still, USAID contractors kept putting themselves and their targets at risk, the AP found. They also ended up compromising Cuba's vibrant hip-hop culture.
Artists that USAID contractors tried to promote left Cuba or stopped performing in the face of government pressure, and one of Cuba's most popular independent music festivals was taken over after officials linked it to USAID. The program is laid out in documents involving Creative Associates International, a DC contractor paid millions of dollars to undermine the communist government. The work included the creation of a "Cuban Twitter" and the dispatch of inexperienced Latin American youth to recruit activists. "Any assertions that our work is secret or covert are simply false," USAID said in a statement yesterday. Its programs were aimed at strengthening civil society "often in places where civic engagement is suppressed and where people are harassed, arrested, subjected to physical harm, or worse." Creative Associates didn't respond to a request for comment. (Read more Cuba stories.)