[News] Why USAID Could Never Spark a Hip Hop Revolution in Cuba
news at freedomarchives.org
Mon Dec 15 16:10:55 EST 2014
Why USAID Could Never Spark a Hip Hop Revolution in Cuba
Any attempt to engineer a U.S.-affiliated movement from above is
destined to be revealed for the farce that it is.
Between 2006 and 2007, I received numerous visits from two State
Department officials at my home in Harlem, New York. I had just written
a book on Cuban cultural production, with a large section on rap. I was
never home when they came, so they left messages with my neighbors,
telling them I should urgently contact them. When they finally found me
at home one day, I agreed to meet with them at a nearby Starbucks.
During the meeting, they wanted to know about my research on Cuban rap.
One of the agents, a male, said that he enjoyed Cuban rap, he listened
to it frequently and wanted to know what my favorite groups were. The
other, a woman, pressed me for more details about my work in Cuba. I
didn't give out any information. I told them that anything I could say
on the topic was already written in my book. After this meeting, the
harassment continued. I finally sought out a human rights lawyer,
Michael Smith. He informed me that it is never advisable to meet with an
agent of the government alone, and that if an agent should try to make
contact, one should have a lawyer write to the agent on one's behalf.
Smith then sent them a letter saying that I did not wish to speak to
them anymore, and that if they had any questions, they could contact him
directly. We didn't hear from them again.
So last week, when the AP news story broke about USAID infiltrating
Cuban rap groups
between 2009 and 2010, I was not surprised. Infiltration is something
that Cuban rappers have been wary of for some time. Navigating the
legions of foreign journalists, producers, researchers, and artists has
always been a challenge for Cuban rappers, especially during the heyday
of the movement in the early 2000s, and there was sometimes a suspicion
of people who didn't enter the scene through someone known to the
community. But in the latter half of the 2000s, when many rappers were
emigrating and foreign contacts and state support were drying up, Cuban
rappers were more vulnerable to the likes of outside actors like USAID,
who sought to infiltrate the movement and manipulate it to its own ends.
But the USAID mission to "spark" a "pro-democracy" movement of Cuban
rappers was bound to fail for many reasons. Cubans already had a
movement. Over the last several decades, Cuban hip hoppers have built a
multi-faceted movement that raises issues of racism within Cuban
society, provides a channel of expression for Afro-Cuban youth, makes
connections with activists and celebrated artists around the globe, and
has had a long-lasting impact on Cuban cultural production. It was an
organic movement built from the ground up, from the streets and the
housing projects. Cuban rap is hope, and anger, and poetry, and no U.S.
agency could create that.
The Cuban hip hop movement was not trying to overthrow the Castro
government. Artists found ways to work within the system, while making
their criticisms in veiled ways, or even openly at times. The "Hip Hop
/Revolución/" that they talk about is one that is in dialogue with the
historic Cuban revolution, and youth have been putting pressure on their
leaders to live up to the promises of that revolution. Even the younger,
more confrontational artists like Los Aldeanos, one of the groups that
USAID tried to infiltrate, didn't see themselves as trying to topple the
government. That was never part of their agenda.
Pro-democracy means something completely different to Cuban rappers than
it does to USAID. For Cuban rappers, democracy has been about a more
full sense of participation and recognition within their society. It has
been about being able to influence policy and express their ideas about
racism, inequality, and the contradictions that free market policies
have brought to an increasingly dysfunctional bureaucratic socialism. It
has been about trying to rethink what revolution might mean for the next
generation and how they could see that in practice. For USAID, democracy
promotion means overthrowing the Cuban government and ushering in a free
market regime friendly to the United States. Those two goals have never
been and could never be compatible.
The documents secured by the AP reveal a frightening level of
manipulation of Cuban rappers by USAID. Like with ZunZuneo, the failed
Cuban twitter project also engineered by USAID
the actions of this agency put Cubans at risk of state repression and
threatened a closure of the critical spaces that rappers had already
built and defended. USAID realizes the power of culture to provide a
powerful political voice for young people. What it doesn't realize is
that in a society shaped by successive generations of revolutionary
projects, any attempt to engineer a U.S.-affiliated movement from above
is destined to be revealed for the farce that it is.
/Sujatha Fernandes teaches Sociology at Queens College and the Graduate
Center, CUNY. She is the author of several books including /Cuba
Represent! Cuban Arts, State Power, and the Making of New Revolutionary
Cultures/(Duke University Press, 2006), and, most recently, /Close to
the Edge: In Search of the Global Hip Hop Generation/(Verso, 2011)./
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