For more than a decade, hip-hop has risen as a cultural force in Cuba, giving voice to a discontented generation's frustrations with the fossilized Castro regime. The underground scene has become a rare outlet for genuine criticism of the government.
So of course bungling U.S. spies tried to infiltrate the scene and pretty much ruined it for everyone. That's the gist of a jaw-dropping new investigation from the Associated Press this morning, which found that the famed group Los Aldeanos -- which has since fled the island and works out of Miami -- was among the Americans' top targets.
The plot comes from USAID and the same contractor that an earlier AP investigation had busted for creating a "Cuban Twitter" app meant to stir up opposition to the regime.
New documents from that same contractor, a D.C.-based group called Creative Associates International, lay out the scheming to get into Havana's rap scene. The endgame?
To "to break the information blockade" and stir up "social change," the AP reports.
The main operator for USAID was a Serbian promoter named Rajko Bozic, who ran a music gathering in his homeland known for student-based protest groups called EXIT Festival. With USAID's direction, Bozic and others would recruit hip-hop artists supposedly for "cultural initiatives" but really to try to up their visibility and to hone their anti-government message.
Among those artists was Los Aldeanos, which emerged in the mid-2000s as one of Cuba's most fiery, best respected political rap groups.
"In Cuba, it's called hip-hop consciencia and the most vocal members of that movement are Los Aldeanos," filmmaker Iskander told New Times in 2010, when the group was coming to town for a controversial concert. "These prolific young creators and composers, they are mobilizing so many youths, and forgive my repetition, but they are changing the national consciousness of the country."
USAID spent thousands -- routed secretly through Panama to hide the money trail -- to produce a TV show with Los Aldeanos and to distribute it around the island.
The group also tried to get its fingers in Juanes' famed 2009 concert in Havana, which the Colombian explicitly cast as non-political. Juanes resisted their overtures to give Los Aldeanos a spot on the lineup, though.
Los Aldeanos' frontman, Aldo Rodriguez, later ended up with his computer seized.
AP's investigation didn't find any documents indicating that Los Aldeanos knew they were working with an American government group, and the group's frontman would only tell the AP that his "conscience was clear."
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The plot, such as it was, fell apart fairly quickly after Bozic had a memory stick seized at the airport and had to cut short his visits to the island. USAID insists that its efforts were never clandestine, saying "Any assertions that our work is secret or covert are simply false."
Los Aldeanos, complaining that the Castro regime wouldn't let them work in peace, have since re-located to South Florida.