The U.S. Tried and (Epically Failed) to Secretly Infiltrate Cuba’s Underground Cuban Hip-Hop Scene

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This is the kind of news that makes me regret making fun of my hard-core conspiracy theorist boyfriend – it seems like it can’t be real, and then it gets SMH real. Back in April, news broke about the U.S.’ failed attempt to create a “Cuban Twitter” to create social unrest. Well, the AP reported yesterday that this wasn’t USAID’s only attempt to undermine Cuba’s communist government; for more than two years, the U.S. agency also secretly infiltrated Cuba’s underground hip-hop scene, and tried to recruit unsuspecting rappers, like Los Aldeanos, to spark an anti-government youth movement.

Much like their “Cuban Twitter” efforts, they completely bungled the attempt, and also wound up doing damage to Cuba’s storied hip hop scene by implicating and jeopardizing unwitting artists. Instead of boosting Cuba’s grassroots, politically conscious rap movement, they basically killed it. From the AP Investigation:

“The idea was to use Cuban musicians “to break the information blockade” and build a network of young people seeking “social change,” documents show. But the operation was amateurish and profoundly unsuccessful. On at least six occasions, Cuban authorities detained or interrogated people involved in the program; they also confiscated computer hardware, and in some cases it contained information that jeopardized Cubans who likely had no idea they were caught up in a clandestine U.S. operation. Still, contractors working for the U.S. Agency for International Development kept putting themselves and their targets at risk […]

They also ended up compromising Cuba’s vibrant hip-hop culture — which has produced some of the hardest-hitting grassroots criticism since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. Artists that USAID contractors tried to promote 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.”

Read the full story on the failed operation here, and for some background on the birth and evolution of Cuba’s underground rap scene, check out our feature “Don’t Blame Reggaeton, Que Viva El Rap Cubano.