Music has long been known to influence society, particularly the youth, and a U.S. agency hoped to tap into the power of music to spark anti-government sentiment in Cuba.
With tensions flaring between the U.S. and Cuba, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) decided to take another stab at connecting with the youth of Cuba, this time with rap music.
USAID was the force behind the failed “Cuban Twitter,” a communications network geared toward younger generations and designed to stir unrest toward Cuba’s communist government. The legality of the project fell somewhere in a gray area, but ultimately the operation was pulled after the tech company, ZunZeo, ran out of money.
Alan Gross, who was arrested in Cuba on espionage charges five years ago, was also a contractor for USAID. Despite the White House’s requests to Cuba for Gross’ release, no progress has been made, and Gross’ incarceration has greatly exacerbated the already-tense relationship between the two countries.
So with several failed missions in Cuba under their belts already, it wasn’t surprising when USAID was discovered as the mastermind behind another failed project in Cuba.
USAID hired Serbian contractor Rajko Bozic to recruit popular Cuban hip-hop artists, such as Aldo Rodriguez, to wage a war on the country’s communist regime via music.
According to CBS Miami, Bozic didn’t reveal his true intentions to Rodriguez, as anybody caught working with USAID could be thrown in jail.
Without knowing their role in a covert war between Cuba and the U.S., Rodriguez and his hip-hip group, Los Aldeanos, started releasing protest songs like “El Rap Es Guerra”, or “Rap Is War”.
The Associated Press obtained thousands of pages of interviews and documents from Washington regarding this USAID project, and these documents reveal one important thing about the failed project: it was poorly executed.
Bozic, who had been hired by Creative Associated International, a company that was well-funded by USAID, recruited several Cuban musicians to create music that challenged the government.
This project was risky to begin with, as Bozic operated in plain sight in a country whose government strictly controls the music industry.
Raul Castro’s government started cracking down heavily on hip-hop, forbidding performances by groups like Los Aldeanos and forming Agencia Cubana de Rap, a special agency whose mission was to regulate hip-hop.
In a memo, Bozic wrote, “We shouldn’t underestimate government’s potential to recognize danger.”
After some political coaching by the contractors, Los Aldeanos’ anti-government lyrics and messages became unmistakably clear: “I’m tired of following their plan, Socialism or Death is not a slogan. They’re the only options you get.”
Eventually, the Cuban government caught onto the operation, and Bozic fled the country once he realized his life was in jeopardy.
A few weeks after Bozic left Cuba, Gross was arrested for working on a different USAID project.
Los Aldeanos have also left Cuba for safety reasons.
Ultimately, the AP report reveals that the hip-hop project may have done more harm than good. While Cuban hip-hop was one of the primary mediums for criticism and dissent against the communist regime, now most of these anti-government groups and artists have fled the country “or stopped performing after pressure from the Cuban government, and one of the island’s most popular independent music festivals was taken over after officials linked it to USAID.”
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