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Cuban music producer denies having ‘worked’ for USAID

Cuban music producer denies having ‘worked’ for USAID
BY NORA GÁMEZ TORRES NGAMEZTORRES@ELNUEVOHERALD.COM
12/16/2014 8:27 PM 12/16/2014 9:23 PM

In an exclusive interview with el Nuevo Herald, Cuban artist Adrian
Monzon denied having worked for USAID in a project “to overthrow the
Cuban government”.

Monzon, known as “Vj Cuba,” was named in an Associated Press report as
the only Cuban who was aware that the money he received from Serbian
promoter Rajko Bozic to take part in several cultural events came from
Creative Associates International, a company gthat held a contract with
the United States Agency of International Development (USAID).

“I have never participated in a project to overthrow the Cuban
government. If anyone I worked with or that was doing the same work that
I was had those intentions, it wasn’t my purpose,” said Monzon, who
supports protest art.

“I think that working to overthrow the government is a way of
distributing propaganda for them and those people should be multiplied
by zero because all they are is one more obstacle in the process that is
life.”

Related

US co-opted Cuba’s hip-hop scene to spark change
Cuban rapper denies receiving money from USAID
High in the Andes, a tenuous haven for Cubans
Monzon, has been living in Miami for a year and currently works
delivering pizza. He defines himself as a visual artist and graduated
from San Alejandro Art School in 2001.

Soon after, he became involved in digital art and started promoting the
work of “Vj’s” on the island — Vj’s are artists who create images
displayed by a projector on a screen.

After 2003, Monzon started collaborating with Matraka Productions, an
independent cultural promoter who organized festivals and concerts and
began producing events.

In 2005, he met Bozic, who first introduced himself as the producer of
the EXIT music festival and later said he would support the Rotilla
festival, organized by Matraka Productions. Monzon explains that he was
the only one who knew about the Creative Associates company, when he
started working on the TalentoCubano.net project in 2009.

“The relationship with Creative Associates has nothing to do with
Matraka. That connection has to do with TalentoCubano.net, that’s the
project that I started after working with Matraka,” he said.

He claims to have personally met Xavier Utset, who managed the program
for Creative Associates from their offices in Costa Rica and says he
introduced himself as “a donor that was working with the Serbians and
was interested in the topic of Cuba.”

“It was enough for me that they said their intention was to develop the
culture and help us, in the end it was about empowering people,” he said
and added that social change was discussed but in terms of helping
people “develop themselves which is not the same thing or is the
opposite thing of a popular revolt which causes destruction.”

Monzon prefers the term “entrepreneur” instead of that of “opposition,”
because he thinks “they are the ones who are opposed to us,” in
reference to Cuban authorities.

“The conversation about where the money from Creative Associates came
from was never had. I found out about USAID from state security. They
talked to me about USAID and told me that the money came from the CIA,”
explained the artist.

After the article about AP investigation was published, Monzon was
criticized by his friends and former collaborators from Cuba’s
alternative music scene, who questioned why he didn’t inform them about
what he knew about the origin of the money.

“The only thing I did was get a grant that I thought was coming from
Costa Rica and that I suspected came from a more dangerous place,” he said.

According to the AP report, the USAID project built a social network of
“200 conscientious youth” and connected them with the site that the
administrators hoped would unleash a “social movement.”

Monzon, on the other hand, insists that the original idea of
TalentoCubano.net is his and didn’t stem from instructions given by a
foreign entity. It was about building “a map of all the Cuban musicians
in the world” and later connecting them with each other to spread their
music within the website.

The map was “open” and didn’t only include artists who created protest
music, according to what Monzon explained to the state security, who
closely monitored all activities conducted by independent artists and
promoters.

“It was definitely not them telling us what to do. It’s not a USAID
initiative, it was a program of the Cuban people that is already
extremely bored by the Cuban government and rebels in any way they can.”

He affirms that people from other countries came to propose other
concerts and projects — for example, a musical talent show similar to
shows like X Factor and The Voice —were rejected by Cuban artists
because they considered that those proposals were far from serving the
interests of the Cuban public.

“We’re not here to provide services for anyone,” he said. “We’re here to
work for culture.”

Monzon says that the concerts organized by Matraka depended on donations
from tourists and other foreigners in order to produce events. This
included the purchase of necessary technology, payment for technicians,
food, transportation and compensation for musicians and the production
team, which Monzon assured worked for free on several occasions.

In his account, he mentions that the members of alternative culture
scene that he associated with searched for financial backing at the
embassies of European nations and at state institutions such as the
Hermanos Saiz Association. But that trying to support these types of
activities with state money “is a joke.”

In reference to the HSA and the Ministry of Culture, he notes that those
institutions have a limited budget in Cuban pesos. “What they have is
for their campaigns and for the people they already have commitments
with,” he said.

He also mentions that event organizers for the Rotilla electronic
musical festival,which takes place on a beach in the Mayabeque province
and hosted a crowd of 15,000, made a proposal to authorities to charge 5
CUC ($5.50) for a three-day entrance ticket to the event. But the
authorities refused this payment because they said that “the beaches
belong to the people.”

“To make this pile of dreams that we had come true we needed money and
the money I saw with my short sight was the one I took and since I
understood that it could be dangerous legally for people, I decided to
not tell anybody that the money wasn’t from Serbia,” Monzon said.

At the same time, Monzon justifies his decision saying that “there’s no
option” and that “not taking money from the United States is a demon
that was invented by the Castros because the U.S. is their personal
archrival, which I don’t think is a real enemy of Cuba,” he said.

Previously, Didier Santos, a member of the Matraka group, had given a
similar opinion to Fusion. “From where would you obtain money more
effectively? From the Cuban government, which only gives you money if
you follow the guidelines of their party or from another government that
gives you the creative freedom to do whatever you want to do?

“I’ve heard that USAID has a lot of money and that Creative Associates
had a contract involving a lot of money with them but for us, let me
tell you….TalentoCubano.net cost $30,0000,” he said.

That amount covered the two months of work put in a by a team of 10
people, who traveled around the island filming musicians in different
provinces and who set up and designed the website. No salaries were
paid, only money to cover daily expenses or per diem when they traveled
outside Havana and that didn’t surpass the 50 CUC a week, an equivalent
of $55 a week.

“A rapper asked me two days ago where all that money went. The
transportation, the gasoline, the food, the fliers, the per diem, the
stages and the sets, all of that cost money,” he said. “A concert can
cost $2,000 and that’s because no one charges a single peso. All of that
money goes into the production of a project, not into anyone’s pocket,
that’s what I think most offends others.”

Monzon adds that if he had kept any money, he wouldn’t be working at
Papa John’s.

Despite the producer’s belief that the current programs that financially
back civic society and culture in Cuba should continue to operate, he
warns that there’s “a lot of corruption” in the way that they are run.

“If every time an agency publishes an article about these programs they
cease to operate, the people that are in Cuba and who depend on that
money to do their projects will feel as if their wings are being cut,”
he said. “But these programs have many amends to make and many things to
fix because they generate millions of dollars and a big portion of that
money goes to salaries and personal expenses for the people who travel
to Cuba.”

Monzon questions how the Associated Press reported the story.

“The same worries that Rolando [the security agent from the Cuban state
security who monitored his activities] had are the ones that are in the
article and that’s why I feel that they are in some type of agreement
with each other,” he said and warns the article instills “fear in people
and fear of falling from grace” like the people in the article.

He also makes note of possible prejudices that were were caused by the
mention of his name in the AP report, especially the impossibility of
his return to Cuba. Almost all of his family remain there.

“I can’t return to Cuba, which I was thinking of doing after obtaining
my residency, but now I’m convinced that I’m the number one scape goat,”
he said. “If I want to see my mom I have to bring her here.”

In regards to the repercussions for rappers, artists and musicians
involved in the alternative culture scene on the island, Monzon thinks
that the AP investigation gave the authorities “the arguments” necessary
to call them “mercenaries.”

“They don’t have legal justification to take anybody to jail. I was the
only one that knew and that’s why I hid it from everyone,” said Monzon.

He believes that what Cuban artists achieved with the money coming from
USAID was positive and that they “inspired” many others to perform
protest arts.

“I think we ran the limits of liberty of expression,” he said. “When we
held the first hip-hop concert with 43 protest rappers, who performed
all together as part of a project, I had the sound systems and my heart
beat was at 1,000 or more beats per second. We knew we were going to get
in trouble or be busted but now if I did the same concert I wouldn’t be
scared anymore,” he said.

Follow Nora Gámez Torres on Twitter @ngameztorres

Source: Cuban music producer denies having ‘worked’ for USAID | The
Miami Herald –
http://www.miamiherald.com/news/nation-world/world/americas/cuba/article4537377.html

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