Cuba

Cuban rapper denies receiving money from USAID

This 2008 photo shows Bian Rodriguez, left, and Aldo Rodriguez, right, members of Los Aldeanos in Havana. Documents obtained by The Associated Press show that a U.S. agency infiltrated Cuba's hip-hop scene, recruiting unwitting rappers to spark a youth movement against the government.
This 2008 photo shows Bian Rodriguez, left, and Aldo Rodriguez, right, members of Los Aldeanos in Havana. Documents obtained by The Associated Press show that a U.S. agency infiltrated Cuba's hip-hop scene, recruiting unwitting rappers to spark a youth movement against the government. AP

Cuban rapper Aldo Rodriguez Baquero, a member of the popular hip hop group Los Aldeanos, said he has “never” received money from the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), despite news reports published Thursday in Cuba and Venezuela that say otherwise.

The publications cited an investigation by the Associated Press, which contended the U.S. agency was trying to foment discontent among Cuban young people.

Rodriguez Baquero said he didn’t know that Serbian promoter Rajko Bozic was a subcontractor of Creative Associates International, which held a contract with USAID. He said he was unaware the company was working on a project to “recruit” him to “unleash a youth movement against the Cuban government,” according to the AP.

“We didn’t even suspect that it could be that way,” Rodriguez Baquero told el Nuevo Herald.

The rapper says he only met Bozic briefly and that he didn’t speak Spanish. He was introduced to him by members of Grupo Matraka, who organized Rotilla, the biggest electronic music festival in Cuba before the government shut it down in 2011.

“We didn’t have performances in Cuba and the people from Matraka offered to set up shows, not just for us, but for a lot of rappers that performed together. We never made a single dollar. We only performed our music and they helped us to have an arena to perform,” he explained.

“The songs we performed at the Rotilla festival, which they are now claiming were paid for by USAID, were sung by us a long time before. We even sang them at home because we didn’t have a place to perform.”

According to the AP investigation, Bozic was sent to Havana to “pump up the volume” of the protest songs the group performed.

Rodriguez Baquero says Bozic never told them “to write songs with explicit lyrics.”

“That Serbian man didn’t even know how to speak Spanish. Who can believe that I would allow a man who doesn’t even live in my country to come and tell me that I have to sing stronger, politically charged songs?”

Rodriguez Baquero insists the songs he performed during the years Bozic was active in Los Aldeanos (2009-2010) had been written years before.

He confirmed that Bozic had cameras and the necessary technology to record promotional videos. The project, called Raspadura Producciones, also distributed videos by other artists in the hip hop and alternative scene. The rapper also said that when Los Aldeanos was invited to the EXIT Festival in Serbia, they were given classes on how to prepare festivals. The AP classified this as “political capacitation.”

The AP report alleges censoring of the group increased after Cuban authorities discovered the USAID project. After their performance in Rotilla, the group was not allowed to perform in Cuba. However, an exception was made for a concert Tropical in 2013, Bian Oscar Rodriguez, the other member of the duo, told el Nuevo Herald in a previous interview.

According to Rodriguez Baquero, Los Aldeanos didn’t have authorization to work before then because they weren’t associated with any state regulated music label, which provides the permits to perform. The group belonged to the Hermanos Saiz Association, which helped them obtain “an exit permit” — a government permit eliminated in 2013 — to travel to the Serbian festival.

Rodriguez Baquero said that in 2009 he used only a computer belonging to his aunt to make music. The computer was later confiscated when the police searched her house. The AP report mentions the arrest of the rapper in November of that year for “illegal possession of a computer,” a charge that existed in because Cuban citizens could only import computers with a special permit.

“About six policemen entered my house and said that I sold movies. They also took a computer that belonged to my cousin,” he added.

The AP report noted the efforts by singer songwriter Silvio Rodriguez, father of rapper Silvito “El Libre,’’ who is only identified as a “musical collaborator of Aldo,” to have the Ministry of Culture intervene in the liberation of the rapper and the return of the computer.

The AP states that the rapper didn’t know “the depth of the topic” and describes him as being “surprised to find himself” in the midst of a conspiracy theory.

The AP investigation also stated Los Aldeanos and Grupo Matraka were unaware of the origins of the funds provided to them by the Serbian promoter.

“If everybody knows that no one paid me, then why are they mentioning me so much?” asked Rodriguez Baquero about the AP report.

In a press release circulated on Thursday, Grupo Matraka warned that “with these types of scandals national public opinion will be swayed toward the idea that any subsidy is synonymous with subversion, and that each person subsidized could be considered a subversive element.”

Grupo Matraka describe themselves as “artists, creators, intellectuals” who are “absolute owners of the nation we live in, genuine heirs of the past and creators of the future of the island.”

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres

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