The United States Agency for International Development—the same government agency that funded "Cuban Twitter" and sent undercover youths to stoke civil unrest in the country—infiltrated Cuba's hip hop scene for two years with hopes of "[sparking] a youth movement against the government," according to an Associated Press investigation.
The effort, like those other plots, was largely unsuccessful. Carried out through a contractor company with the conspicuously inconspicuous name Creative Associates International, it focused largely on Aldo Rodriguez, a rapper who's music already harbored anti-government sentiments before the U.S. got involved, and his group Los Aldeanos. If USAID could raise Rodriguez's profile while nudging his music even more toward dissent, the thinking went, his fans could begin a grassroots movement against the government.
Over the course of the operation, the AP reports, USAID's operatives and the musicians who unwittingly worked with them were detained by authorities at least six times, and information procured from confiscated laptops and thumb drives led to its eventual demise.
USAID and Creative Associates' chief operative on the ground was a Serbian music promoter named Rajko Bozic, who helps run Serbia's EXIT Festival. EXIT, now a major summer music festival, began as a set of student-led concerts and demonstrations against the regime of the late Slobodan Milošević, who was ousted in 2000. In other words, Bozic successfully used music to help foment popular uprising in the past.
This time, though the operation saw some victories—a few high-profile performances for Los Aldeanos, and thanks to some USAID meddling through Cuban Twitter, an endorsement from Juanes—it fell flat on its face. Instead of strengthening the political music scene that was already in place, USAID killed it. The AP describes the fate of Rotilla, an ostensibly independent Cuban festival that was in fact financed by EXIT:
In 2010, the Rotilla Festival had seemed like a triumph to build on. But before the next festival could take place, Cuban authorities informed organizers they were taking it over.
A Creative contractor warned that the Cubans knew Bozic and his partners "were receiving money from USAID" and trying to undermine the government as they did with Milosevic in 2000.
Rotilla had been exactly what the U.S. government sought to foster: an organic, cultural initiative independent of the government. Instead, USAID gave the Cuban officials a reason to end it.
USAID defended the plot to the AP in a statement, claiming that "any assertions that our work is secret or covert are simply false." Its operations, it added, aimed to support civil society "often in places where civic engagement is suppressed and where people are harassed, arrested, subjected to physical harm or worse."