Hip-Hop: America's Latest Weapon Against Castro

The U.S. government reportedly spent two years trying to infiltrate Cuba's music scene and undermine the government. It may have undermined the music instead.

Over the years, the United States has infamously plotted to shower Cuba with gifts ranging from exploding cigars to conch shells, poisoned wetsuits to milkshakes, in an effort to undermine and end the regimes of Fidel and Raul Castro.

Even as Fidel Castro has invited Atlantic journalists to dolphin shows in Havana and admitted that the communist model isn't working all that well, U.S. efforts to thwart the Cuban government have continued apace. Among the recent hits are Cuban Twitter and, as the Associated Press reported on Thursday, an initiative to infiltrate the hip-hop scene in Cuba and inspire an uprising.

Like previous campaigns, this latest one also failed spectacularly. "The idea was to use Cuban musicians 'to break the information blockade' and build a network of young people seeking 'social change,' documents show," according to the AP. "But the operation was amateurish and profoundly unsuccessful."

The two-year operation reportedly involved the recruitment and promotion of Cuban hip-hop artists who were critical of the government, by way of a Serbian contractor and a Panamanian front company. One of the groups that the operation focused on was Los Aldeanos (The Villagers), who were believed to enjoy credibility both as artists and critics of the government.

Los Aldeanos were given some political coaching during a trip to Serbia and were featured in an "underground" television project funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) through a bank in Lichtenstein. Eventually, Cuban officials caught on and detained a number of those involved, many of whom never knew they were part of an American operation.

In a statement, USAID denied that the campaign was clandestine in nature. But this fails to explain why the program's recruits didn't realize they were linked to a U.S. government agency or why Panamanian and Serbian middlemen were involved in penetrating Cuba's hip-hop scene. The agency also claims that the effort was part of its greater mission to foster discourse “often in places where civic engagement is suppressed and where people are harassed, arrested, subjected to physical harm or worse.”

Unfortunately, the program may have done more harm than good to civic engagement in Cuba, a place where hip-hop has been at the vanguard of criticism and dissent. According to the AP report, the artists recruited by USAID have either "left 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."