A US government agency spent more than two years trying to fuel political change in Cuba by covertly manipulating the country’s underground hip-hop scene, according to an investigative report from the Associated Press. Documents obtained by the AP show that contractors hired by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) tried to promote certain Cuban hip-hop artists within the country in the hopes of bolstering a youth movement against the communist government of Raúl Castro. But the program backfired, putting targets at greater risk, forcing some musicians to flee the country, and threatening Cuba’s thriving underground rap community.

At the center of the program is a Washington, DC-based company called Creative Associates International, which was paid millions to help subvert the Cuban government. Part of the contract work involved creating a fake Twitter-like social network in Cuba, which the AP reported on earlier this year. USAID later refuted the AP’s report on the service, saying it contained “significant inaccuracies and false conclusions.” On Wednesday, the agency repeated its claims that it does not engage in covert operations.

“Any assertions that our work is secret or covert are simply false,” USAID said in a statement to the AP yesterday, adding that its mandate is to strengthen society “often in places where civic engagement is suppressed and where people are harassed, arrested, subjected to physical harm or worse.”

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