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USAID's Cuba hip-hop project 'reckless', says US Senator

Published:Friday | December 12, 2014 | 10:01 AM

A US agency's secret infiltration of Cuba's underground hip-hop scene to spark a youth movement against the government was "reckless" and "stupid," Senator Patrick Leahy said today after The Associated Press revealed the operation.

On at last six occasions, Cuban authorities detained or interrogated people involved in the program; they also confiscated computer hardware that in some cases contained information that jeopardised Cubans who likely had no idea they were caught up in a clandestine US operation.

"The conduct described suggests an alarming lack of concern for the safety of the Cubans involved, and anyone who knows Cuba could predict it would fail," said Leahy, a Vermont Democrat who is chairman of the State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations Subcommittee. "USAID never informed Congress about this and should never have been associated with anything so incompetent and reckless. It's just plain stupid."

The plan called for contractors to recruit dozens of Cuban musicians for projects disguised as cultural initiatives but really aimed at stoking a movement of fans to challenge the government.

They filmed TV shows and set up a social network to connect some 200 musicians and artists on the island, who would be encouraged to start a social movement.

Artists were flown to Europe ostensibly for concerts and video workshops, but the real aim was to groom them as activists.

The hip-hop operation was conceived by one of USAID's largest contractors, Creative Associates International, using a team of Serbian music promoters.

The Washington-based contractor also led other efforts aimed at undermining Cuba's communist government, including a secret Cuban Twitter text messaging service and an operation that sent in young inexperienced Latin American "tourists" to recruit a new generation of activists.

The collection of USAID missions, which were all undertaken over the same period and cost millions, failed.