STOP: USAID and the Politics of Art in Cuba

Derived from recent reports from the Associated Press, there seems to be a lot of confusion about whether one specific Cuban rap group received funding or equipment from USAID. To me that seems irrelevant. I think the sensationalism is clouding a major point here: that these programs, run by USAID targeting vulnerable populations in CUBA aimed at creating political transition on the island are unethical, subversive, manipulative, and illegal!

Since many of you have asked, here is a summary of what the Associated Press has reported:
Documents from Creative Associates (CREA) acquired by the Associated Press (AP) demonstrate how the U.S. based organization directed their financing and personnel towards Cuba’s hip-hop protagonists between 2007-2012. CREA is a pass-through organization established under the Reagan Administration for USAID projects centered on youth, media and education. Because funding that originates in the U.S. State Department is illegal in Cuba (Ley #88; 1999), CREA is viewed on the island as USAID’s not so “humanitarian” side. Most Cuban rappers involved did not know the origin of the funding, but, when money or high-end equipment “falls from the sky” in Havana, it is usually coming from the US State Dept. or US INT, especially if its aimed at projects that are critical of the Castro Administration. Youth groups and vulnerable populations have been a specific target of USAID projects in Cuba for a decade since the Bush Administration published the “Commission for a Free Cuba Report” aimed at accelerating political transition on the island in favor of US interests. The first report was written under U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell in 2004, a second more aggressive approach was proposed by Condoleezza Rice in 2006.

The AP report uncovers names of individuals who received equipment and/or funding from the USAID program. One individual in particular, a VJ that was a part of the hip-hop movement, who was directly working with and getting paid by CREA, and a foreigner from Serbia who was micro-leading the program under the cover of EXIT FEST (also known for this operation as SALIDA). The real wicked individuals however, were in the USAID/CREA offices (Utset, Saltos, etc.) whose directorship consisted of strategizing teams on how to manipulate rappers, pop artists, musicians, and cultural figures.

I recommend reading the original documents posted on the AP site (http://apne.ws/1B2vAys). In fact, I even get a little shout out on the docs. On page 36, a report from the field back to USAID/CREA states that I, Melisa Riviere, “that ambitious and clever girl” whose “enemy is in Washington” was a “security threat” to their project and advises their team to be “very cautious in dealing with her.” To note, I have always been outspokenly opposed to these subversive, unethical and illegal programs by USAID in Cuba, as well as clearly against the US embargo. The documents are tyrannical and sickening to read, but certainly make a case that popular culture is often driven by a powerful few in a government office, in this case, paid for by the American people.

Lastly, and very important to note, I gave the AP an interview speaking specifically about USAID’s programs and their methods of operation, not speaking about any specific rap groups in Cuba. This fact has been conveniently misconstrued, pitting me against rappers (divide and conquer?). I have to wonder who is financing the media confusion? Any comments that appear in the press about a specific Cuban rap group have been cut-and-pasted from interviews I gave in 2009-2010. Since 2010, other than my focus on Son Dos Alas and my denouncement of USAID programs that target music and art, I have not made public statements about specific Cuban rap groups. I have been writing and publishing about these programs for four years now and my focus is on denouncing USAID programs that knowingly conducting illegal projects in Cuba which intentionally harm organic movements and good people.

To read a recent publication about USAID subversive projects on the island within the context of my doctoral research on Cuban (and Puerto Rican) rap, please see the ‘STOP’ section of “Between > (Play) and |<< (Rewind): the Making of Son Dos Alas” in OSU’s Latin American Studies journal Alter/Nativas.

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