Saturday, December 20, 2014
USAID hijacked Cuban hip-hop
Young Cuban hip-hop musicians have been sucked into a USAID secret operation aiming at regime change in Havana. Rappers from underground circles were unwittingly supposed to promote anti-government sentiments, but the operation was haplessly executed.
A new AP investigation has exposed a secret program by America’s Agency for International Development (USAID) to infiltrate Cuba’s underground hip-hop scene to form a movement of “socially-conscious youth” opposing the Communist authorities. The operation lasted for over two years, in 2009-2011.
USAID has denied the allegations, claiming “Any assertions that our work is secret or covert are simply false,” in a statement on Wednesday. It stressed that its programs are 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.”
The agency’s principal contractor, Washington-based Creative Associates International, associated with a Serbian team to promote Cuban rappers and get the underground hip-hop subculture to stir political dissent in Cuba.
Previously, the same team headed by contractor Rajko Bozic was used to organize student protest concerts, attempting to influence Serbian youths to turn against the President Slobodan Milosevic and contribute to the overthrow of his government back in 2000.
According to documents obtained by the AP, the Serbs operated under the guise of a Panama company financed via a Liechtenstein bank to cover the operation up. USAID's efforts were so classified that the money trail was successfully hidden from Cuban authorities. This effectively raised the suspicions of the US Treasury Department, which surmised a possible US embargo violation and froze a transaction.
Promoters of a political change in Cuba recruited a number of musicians, the most prominent of them Los Aldeanos, already restricted to performing at home for their anti-government lyrics.
Los Aldeanos got political training while doing a concert tour in Serbia, but allegedly never suspected that the US government had paid the bills during their tour.
The rappers assisted in producing an underground TV project on Cuban youth culture entitled ‘Viva Cuba Libre: Rap is War’.
Filmed with hidden cameras, the film was supposed to bring viewers to the streets of Havana and hear“the sound of struggle and the voice of a new revolution.”
The protest movement planned by the USAID contractors was organized as a social network based onTalentoCubano.net website promoting Cuban amateur musicians. The movement numbered about 200 “socially-conscious youth.”
USAID operated rather clumsily in Cuba, AP reports, as there were at least six incidents in which contractors or their Cuban associates were detained or interrogated. On a number of occasions Cuban authorities managed to seize computers with data linking the program to USAID. But despite those blatant failures, the contractors continued worming their way into the Cuban musical underground.
Yet instead of forging Cuban hip-hop into a revolutionary movement, the USAID contractors compromised the very musicians they tried to promote.
Los Aldeanos had to leave the country due to pressure from the Cuban government and moved to South Florida, where their lyrics became much softer.
“I never imagined that a program like this could exist ... When you find out you could be surrounded by a conspiracy, it's shocking,” legendary Cuban singer Silvio Rodriguez told AP.
Back in April, AP reported that the leaders of the Roots of Hope, the largest nonprofit organization for young Cuban-Americans, which explicitly refused to accept US government funds, in fact supported Washington’s secret ZunZuneo program. Also known as the ‘Cuban Twitter’, it was aimed at toppling Cuba’s government.
A further AP investigation revealed in August that the US secretly sent young Latinos to Cuba to trigger political unrest.
One month ago, the US government prohibited the Agency for International Development from acting in countries that reject its help, or from taking on dangerous or risky projects.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The head of the nation's global development agency said Wednesday he will step down from his post in February, following an announcement by the U.S. government that it would start talks toward restoring diplomatic relations with Cuba.
Rajiv Shah, the administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, gave no public reason for leaving the agency he's led since 2000. In a statement released Wednesday morning, he said he had "mixed emotions" but did not elaborate.
Shah's announcement also came hours before U.S. officials confirmed on Wednesday that USAID contractor Alan Gross was freed from a Cuban prison. He was arrested in December 2009 and later sentenced to 15 years after Cuban authorities said he tried to smuggle illegal technology into the country.
USAID, under Shah, drew intense criticism from some U.S. lawmakers and the Cuban government for its Cuba programs. An AP investigation this year revealed the agency — with the help of another Washington-based contractor — created a Twitter-like service, staged a health workshop to recruit activists and infiltrated the island's hip-hop community.
Shah was confirmed Dec. 24, 2009, three weeks after Gross' arrest. At the time, the AP found, a USAID-run program in Cuba continued despite internal warnings that travel was dangerous because of Gross' detention.
Following the AP's disclosures, the agency prepared internal rules that would effectively end risky undercover work in hostile countries. The AP found USAID and its contractor, Creative Associates International, concealed their involvement in the Cuban programs — setting up front companies, routing money through overseas bank transactions and fashioning elaborate cover stories.
That subterfuge put at risk the agency's cooperation with foreign governments to deliver aid to the world's poor. USAID recently pledged more than $140 million to fight Ebola in West Africa, part of its $425 million effort against the epidemic.
"For the past five years, Raj Shah has been at the center of my administration's efforts to advance our global development agenda," President Barack Obama said in a statement Wednesday. Obama said the administrator "embodied America's finest values by proactively advancing our development priorities, including ending global poverty, championing food security, promoting health and nutrition, expanding access to energy sources, and supporting political and economic reform in closed societies."
USAID describes itself as the lead U.S. government agency working to fight poverty and promote democracy around the world. Shah said Wednesday he was "more confident than ever in the lasting effect of our work."