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In Bungled Covert Operation, USAID Contractor Recruited Hip-Hop Artists to Help Topple Cuban Government

From the United States government contractor, which brought you “Cuban Twitter” and a band of untrained young Latin Americans sent to infiltrate Cuban society through the organization of an HIV workshop, comes another bungled covert operation against Raul Castro’s government: an operation to recruit notorious Cuban rappers and co-opt the country’s hip-hop music scene in order to spark an uprising.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) contracted Creative Associates International, which conducted all three of these blundering operations simultaneously as part of a “four-year contract” with USAID. The contract reportedly ended in 2012.

All three of the operations have been revealed in reports published by the Associated Press this year. Each time the AP has revealed the existence of these contracted projects, USAID has maintained they are not engaged in covert operations.

“Any assertions that our work is secret or covert are simply false,” USAID stated, according to the AP. The agency added its projects are intended to strengthen “civil society” and “often in places where civic engagement is suppressed and where people are harassed, arrested [and] subjected to physical harm or worse.”

However, like “Cuban Twitter” and the HIV caper, the plan to co-opt the hip-hop scene involved “elaborate subterfuge, including a front organization and an exotic financial scheme to mask American involvement.”

The plan would also end disastrously and have the impact of destroying what independent or underground hip-hop scene the Cuban government had allowed to flourish.

The operation, launched in early 2009, was the brain child of Serbian music promoter Rajko Bozic, who was inspired by the success of the student movement that helped topple Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.

Bozic targeted Aldo Rodriguez, a member of the group, Los Aldeanos, and a “hero in the hip-hop underground,” who was known for protesting the Castro government in his music.

Creative paid “hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries and to cover operational costs, including video and computer equipment.” So the “money trail to the Serbians” was masked, Creative setup a “front company in Panama called Salida,” which was “headed by a lawyer in Liechtenstein.”

The Serbian music promoter was well aware that Cuban musicians would be wary of someone linked to the US government. “Anyone caught participating in a USAID operation could be sent to prison,” he informed Creative in a memo. Still, Bozic was certain “gathering to confront the censorship imposed on hip-hop” had a “great potential.”

Yet, there were several problems. Bozic, Adrian Monzon, a Cuban video jockey who had the reputation of being the “contact of the highest confidence,” a photographer and others linked to the operation were all detained by Cuban authorities at least six times. Each time someone was detained nobody quite knew what files were on their computers or thumb drives, which linked them to USAID.

In November 2009, according to a former USAID contractor who AP interviewed, Bozic was detained while he was carrying “all of Best Buy on his back.” He had “computer and video equipment for performers and videographers.” Police seized the equipment, including a memory stick that had documents, which a Creative manager understood had “lots of info on them.”

This happened just weeks before Alan Gross, another USAID contractor, was arrested in Cuba and sentenced to 15 years in prison.

Bozic was out, and Monzon took over. In January 2010, Monzon informed Creative that the authorities were “VERY concerned about you guys” and that there might be a CIA operation underway to “destroy revolution” after Cuban state security “took him for a not-so-optional visit to a Havana museum to talk.” State security was particularly concerned about an annual summer concert event called the EXIT Festival, which Bozic helped produce in Serbia.

State security had noticed that a networking site for musicians who were “socially conscious youth” had been launched called TalentoCubano.org. The same month Monzon took a group of young musicians from TalentoCubano to Europe for “leadership training.”

Later, in July 2010, Los Aldeanos left Cuba for the first time and performed at the EXIT Festival. The group was trained too.

Xavier Utset, “a veteran of anti-Castro efforts who ran the program” for Creative Associates, asked Monzon in a chat, “Do you think the training worked to focus them a little more on their role as agents of social mobilization?”

“Yes. They see that there are other people in other places fighting the same fight ad in even worse conditions,” Monzon answered.

But, in August 2010, the operation experienced its next hiccup as Bozic wired $15,000 from Europe to be used to help TalentoCubano musicians infiltrate a major music festival being put on by the family of Pablo Milanes, a “music giant.”

US Treasury Department “froze the transaction under suspicion that it violated the US embargo,” nearly derailing plans.

The same month Los Aldeanos received an invitation to perform at Cuba’s annual electronic music festival called Rotilla. It was a big opportunity, since it was the country’s “largest independent music fest.” And, before a record crowd of 15,000 people, Los Aldeanos spit anti-government lyrics as the crowd cheered their performance.

The success was fleeting. Monzon traveled to Miami in 2011 for a “secret” meeting with his team because Cuban intelligence had become overbearing. Unfortunately, no one thought to hold this meeting in another city that was not known for its hundreds of thousands of Cuban exiles and Monzon was detained upon his return to Cuba.

Monzon’s computer and memory stick were seized. Once again, “the conspirators didn’t know if compromising data was on them.” Somehow they still thought their operation could continue and they even hatched a new “labyrinthine method to finance the TalentoCubano artists secretly.”

“Bozic wanted Creative to give money to a Croatian friend, who would ‘donate’ it to a British friend’s charity. That outfit would then send money to Monzon for the musicians—without informing the charity’s board,” according to the AP’s report. (Remember what USAID said though. The agency’s work is not “secret or covert.”)

Monzon eventually realized when his “confiscated equipment” was returned to him that a copy of a contract, which connected him to Creative as well as the Panamanian front company, had been on the electronics.

Now, the Cuban government had reason to believe most of the Cuban hip-hop underground were involved in an operation to topple Castro. Los Aldeanos would not be performing at another Rotilla festival. The vibrant hip-hop scene would fade.

“Rotilla had been exactly what the US government sought to foster: an organic, cultural initiative independent of the government,” AP concluded. “Instead, USAID gave the Cuban officials reason to end it.”

It turns out Bozic and the EXIT festival had backed Rotilla since 2006. The Serbian promoter working for a USAID contractor had bankrolled the independent music festival at a time when it had grown significantly.

Rotilla founder Michel Matos was devastated to learn the US government had done this to his music festival. “”If I get money from the American government to take cultural action, it’s not that I just have a problem with the Cuban government,” he told AP. “I have a problem with Cubans.”

“This is like the original sin,” Matos added.

At one point, the “Cuban Twitter” operation and recruitment of rappers intersected as “hundreds of thousands of mysterious text messages” were sent to Cubans asking if the rap group they were working with should join Latin rock star Juanes on stage for a show. Even Los Aldeanos had no idea who was trying to get them a gig.

This mischief of US empire has, in all three instances, shut down vibrant culture and stymied potential in civil society, not strengthened it.

“Cuban Twitter” showed the Cuban government it had to aggressively spy on social media or the US government might use it to spur an uprising. The HIV workshop ruse showed the Cuban government it had to aggressively monitor foreign efforts to help with public health or else they might plant the seeds of revolution. And training and funding hip-hop artists showed the Cuban government it needed to shut down underground music scenes because the US might use them delegitimize the government.

There exists the very real possibility that there were more projects Creative was responsible for perpetrating against the Cuban people with the consent and support of USAID.

The US has two laws, which would appear to provide a mandate for these projects. The Cuban Democracy Act was passed in 1992 to “promote a peaceful transition to democracy in Cuba through the application of sanctions directed at the Castro government and support for the Cuban people.” The Cuban Liberty and Democratic Solidarity Act was passed in 1996 to strengthen the embargo of Cuba in order to encourage “a peaceful transition to a representative democracy and market economy in Cuba.”

It is important to recognize that neither of these projects were conducted because the United States wants Cuban citizens to have human rights and freedom. The reason for hiring a contractor to launch these amateurish spy missions is to advance the economic agenda of the US government and the interests of US corporations. The US wants the political dynamics in the country to change so the privatization of services and business sectors in Cuba can be accelerated.

Finally, if you’re jaw has not already dropped in amazement at this series of inglorious espionage misadventures, the genius mastermind of all this, Xavier Utset, has since moved on to a position working at USAID.

CommunityFDL Main BlogThe Dissenter

In Bungled Covert Operation, USAID Contractor Recruited Hip-Hop Artists to Help Topple Cuban Government

From the United States government contractor, which brought you “Cuban Twitter” and a band of untrained young Latin Americans sent to infiltrate Cuban society through the organization of an HIV workshop, comes another bungled covert operation against Raul Castro’s government: an operation to recruit notorious Cuban rappers and co-opt the country’s hip-hop music scene in order to spark an uprising.

The US Agency for International Development (USAID) contracted Creative Associates International, which conducted all three of these blundering operations simultaneously as part of a “four-year contract” with USAID. The contract reportedly ended in 2012.

All three of the operations have been revealed in reports published by the Associated Press this year. Each time the AP has revealed the existence of these contracted projects, USAID has maintained they are not engaged in covert operations.

“Any assertions that our work is secret or covert are simply false,” USAID stated, according to the AP. The agency added its projects are intended to strengthen “civil society” and “often in places where civic engagement is suppressed and where people are harassed, arrested [and] subjected to physical harm or worse.”

However, like “Cuban Twitter” and the HIV caper, the plan to co-opt the hip-hop scene involved “elaborate subterfuge, including a front organization and an exotic financial scheme to mask American involvement.”

The plan would also end disastrously and have the impact of destroying what independent or underground hip-hop scene the Cuban government had allowed to flourish.

The operation, launched in early 2009, was the brain child of Serbian music promoter Rajko Bozic, who was inspired by the success of the student movement that helped topple Serbian President Slobodan Milosevic in 2000.

Bozic targeted Aldo Rodriguez, a member of the group, Los Aldeanos, and a “hero in the hip-hop underground,” who was known for protesting the Castro government in his music.

Creative paid “hundreds of thousands of dollars in salaries and to cover operational costs, including video and computer equipment.” So the “money trail to the Serbians” was masked, Creative setup a “front company in Panama called Salida,” which was “headed by a lawyer in Liechtenstein.”

The Serbian music promoter was well aware that Cuban musicians would be wary of someone linked to the US government. “Anyone caught participating in a USAID operation could be sent to prison,” he informed Creative in a memo. Still, Bozic was certain “gathering to confront the censorship imposed on hip-hop” had a “great potential.”

Yet, there were several problems. Bozic, Adrian Monzon, a Cuban video jockey who had the reputation of being the “contact of the highest confidence,” a photographer and others linked to the operation were all detained by Cuban authorities at least six times. Each time someone was detained nobody quite knew what files were on their computers or thumb drives, which linked them to USAID.

In November 2009, according to a former USAID contractor who AP interviewed, Bozic was detained while he was carrying “all of Best Buy on his back.” He had “computer and video equipment for performers and videographers.” Police seized the equipment, including a memory stick that had documents, which a Creative manager understood had “lots of info on them.”

This happened just weeks before Alan Gross, another USAID contractor, was arrested in Cuba and sentenced to 15 years in prison. (more…)

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof Press. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."

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