5 things to know about USAID's Cuban hip-hop plan

AP News
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Posted: Dec 11, 2014 8:25 AM
5 things to know about USAID's Cuban hip-hop plan

In April, The Associated Press revealed that the U.S. Agency for International Development had overseen the creation of a secret "Cuban Twitter" program to stir political dissent on the island and bypass Cuba's stranglehold on the Internet. But that was part of a larger operation. A second AP investigation in August found the agency dispatched young Latin Americans to provoke political change in Cuba, using health and civic programs as cover.

Now the AP has found the agency secretly cultivated Cuba's underground hip-hop scene, recruiting unwitting rappers to spark a youth movement against the government.

Here are five things to know:

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THE PRECEDENT

The USAID hip-hop program was inspired by Serbian student protest concerts that helped oust former President Slobodan Milosevic in 2000. Serbians involved in that effort guided the Cuban hip-hop program.

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RAP IS WAR

The Serbians recruited musicians for the project, including rappers Los Aldeanos, whose critical lyrics had provoked the government to restrict their performances. Los Aldeanos helped produce an underground TV project on youth culture and received political training while performing in Serbia, but U.S. government connections of the program were hidden from them.

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REPEATED RISK

On at least six occasions, USAID contractors or Cubans they were working with were detained or interrogated. A number of times, authorities seized computer equipment with material linking the program to USAID. But contractors kept taking risks — even with the unwitting Cuban artists.

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SOCIAL NETWORK

The program built a social network of Cuban artists called TalentoCubano.net. A Cuban working for the contractors identified about 200 "socially conscious youth" and connected them on the site that managers hoped would spark a "social movement."

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SECRET FUNDING

The Serbian team hired by Creative Associates International, a Washington-based contractor, used a Panama front company and a bank in Lichtenstein to hide the money trail from Cuban authorities. USAID's effort was so covert that it even surprised the U.S. Treasury Department, which froze a transaction under suspicion that it violated the U.S. embargo.