The battle for art – part four: capitalist ideologues and Cuban hip-hop


‘…in 1932 in his book Kampf um die Kunst (The Battle for Art) (Paul Schultze-Naumburg wrote): “A life-and-death struggle is taking place in art, just as it is in the realm of politics. And the battle for art has to be fought with the same seriousness and determination as the battle for political power.”

This statement, which at first glance seems exaggerated and, indeed, absurd in view of the actual importance of art in the overall social structure, assumes reality only if art and art criticism are used as weapons in a political struggle.’

Berthold Hinz, Art in the Third Reich, Trans., Robert and Rita Kimber, Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1979, 45

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‘Secret US plot to swing Cuban hip-hop’ The Weekend Australian, 13-14.12.14

A US agency’s secret infiltration of Cuba’s underground hip-hop scene to spark a youth movement against the Castro regime was “reckless” and “stupid”, Democrat senator Patrick Leahy said yesterday.

On at least six occasions, Cuban authorities detained or interrogated people involved in the program. They also confiscated computers 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 Senator Leahy, chairman of the State Department and Foreign Operations Appropriations Sub-committee.

“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 scores 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 about 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.

“These actions have gone from boneheaded to a downright irresponsible use of US taxpayer money,” said Republican senator Jeff Flake, a longtime critic of the USAID’s programs in Cuba.

To keep their Cuban targets in the dark, Creative Associates used a front company in Panama with directors in Tortola in the British Virgin Islands – and a lawyer in Liechtenstein to head it.

Contractors used codenames, encrypted email and cover stories to fool Cuban authorities.

A mountain of evidence is revealed in hundreds of pages of contractors’ documents obtained by Associated Press that detail the hip-hop project. Nevertheless, in a statement, USAID said, “Any assertions that our work is secret or covert are simply false.”

Creative referred questions to USAID.

State Department spokeswoman Jen Psaki yesterday said Creative Associates provided USAID with assurances that it had “security protocols in place” for “operating in a closed society and would strictly employ those protocols for all professionals travelling to Cuba”.

But Aldo Rodriguez, the front man for the group Los Aldeanos, was detained on at least two occasions, spending a night in jail. A Serbian contractor was detained coming into Havana with equipment, including a potentially incriminating memory stick that worried the contractors. He cut his trip short just weeks before Alan Gross, a US citizen working on another secret USAID program, was arrested.

In 2011, a Cuban knowingly working for the US program was detained in Havana after a meeting with a Creative manager in Miami. Computer equipment was seized with documents linking him to USAID.

In the end, the USAID program accomplished the opposite of what it intended, compromising Cuba’s vibrant hip-hop culture. When the program started in 2009, it had already produced some of the hardest-hitting grassroots criticism since Fidel Castro came to power in 1959. In August 2010, Los Aldeanos took the stage at Rotilla, one of Cuba’s largest independent music festivals. Before a crowd of about 15,000 people, they lacerated government officials by name and taunted the police.

Within months, a USAID contractor told his handlers that the Cubans said USAID had infiltrated the festival, and soon enough the Cubans took it over. In the end, Los Aldeanos moved to South Florida after complaining that the Cuban government made it impossible for them to work in their own country.

In a statement yesterday, the organisers of the Rotilla festival said they expected a “storm” in reaction to the revelations, one that could severely damage Cuban artists unknowing targeted by the USAID program.

“The destruction that it will bring won’t be seen in homes, structures or property. The whirlwind will drag away names, reputations and even history itself,” the group wrote. “The events to come will transform or extinguish independent art and culture in Cuba.”

Part four/to be continued…



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