The Company that Almost Ruined Cuban Hip Hop is a Profitable Global Operation

Shortly before the US and Cuba reestablished diplomatic relations on December 2014, Associated Press exposed a cartoonish caper by the US Agency for International Development (USAID) (1). Apparently running out of ideas for undermining the Cuban revolution, the agency turned to funding hip hop rappers. This bizarre scheme, denounced by US Senator Patrick Leahy as “reckless” and “stupid”, was contracted out to Creative Associates International Inc. (CAII), a little known private company that happens to be one of USAID’s largest contractors. This is the same company that earlier in 2014 had been caught in another USAID scheme to ensnare Cuban youth, this one involving Twitter.

CAII deserves a closer look. In the last three decades this company has popped up in the middle of major political, diplomatic, military and intelligence operations of the US government worldwide.

“Creative Associates International provides outstanding, on-the-ground development services and forges partnerships to deliver sustainable solutions to global challenges”, explains the company web site. “Its experts focus on building inclusive educational systems, transitioning communities from conflict to peace… engaging youth… and more. Creative is recognized for its ability to quickly adapt and excel in conflict and post-conflict environments.”

From its unusual origins–it was started in 1977 by four women from diverse ethnic backgrounds–it has expanded into a global profit-making operation, with a current presence in 20 countries and over 1,000 employees. “The Company’s portfolio has grown considerably and now includes economic growth, stabilizing communities, enhancing good governance, promoting transparent elections and more”, boasts CAII’s web site. Its current work includes school dropout prevention programs in Tajikistan, East Timor, Cambodia and India, a crime and violence prevention project in El Salvador, an education crisis response program in Nigeria, support for education reform in Jordan, support for livelihoods of Tibetans in China, education and community development programs in Yemen, and literacy promotion in Pakistan. CAII has also done work in Central and South America, Angola, Rwanda, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, the former Yugoslavia, Lebanon and Uzbekistan, among many other countries.

In Libya, a country recently ravaged by war and brutal foreign intervention, CAII launched a community grants program “to strengthen the capacities of civil society organizations”, with the support of the US State Department. The State Department also funds a CAII project in Libya that “seeks to strengthen the ability of civil society organizations to build regional and national consensus and to influence Libya’s formal constitutional drafting process”.

CAII has not missed out on the action in Afghanistan, one of the single most profitable markets for US government contracting. In this war-torn country the company has billed USAID top dollar for a variety of tasks, including primary education, teacher training, literacy, vocational training, promotion of civil society, and technical assistance to local NGO’s.

Not surprisingly, the company’s work has a very political side to it. And it is not pretty.

“CAII’s track record… testifies to a relentless pursuit of free market fundamentalism and vigorous counterinsurgency”, said a 2012 Counterpunch article by Mark Graham (2). According to University of Massachusetts education professor Kenneth Saltman, CAII has been involved in “projects that merged development work with political, military, and economic influence strategies on the part of the U.S.”  since the start of the ‘‘Reagan revolution’’ in ‘‘democracy promotion’’ (3). Saltman found that the company has worked “reintegrating Contra terrorists into Nicaraguan civil society through work training; influencing Nicaraguan elections; participating in both coups against Aristide in Haiti; and privatizing, commercializing, and Americanizing Haitian media and journalism particularly around election coverage.”

According to Graham:

“In Afghanistan the purported goal of ‘promoting democracy’ in reality fosters dependency on foreign sponsors, and privatizes and depoliticizes education and the media.  Recently the Afghan Ministry of Education, which works closely with CAII, has decided to omit all recent history (read the past thirty years of war) from its curriculum.  You can’t buy that kind of thought control—unless you have a few hundred million…”

“In 2009, Pakistani journalists Ahmed Quraishi and Shireen Mazari reported that the CAII headquarters in Peshawar was being used as a front for Blackwater/Xe mercenaries (aka the CIA’s private army) to stage raids into the border area between Pakistan and Afghanistan.”

USAID contracted CAII to rebuild US-occupied Iraq’s education system- everything from school buildings and textbooks to teacher training, curriculum and administration. According to the muckraking Center for Public Integrity:

“In addition to its USAID contract for educational reform in Afghanistan, worth at least $60 million, Creative was awarded a USAID contract in March 2003 for educational development work in Iraq. That contract, which may be extended by two years, is meant to cover everything from desks and blackboards to textbooks, curriculum reform, academic standards and teacher training and is worth up to $157 million. Creative was the 10th largest recipient of government-funded contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Center’s analysis.” (4)

In 2003 the company’s dealings received the unwelcome attention of the US Congress and the press, which were asking how it got its Iraq contracts without a competitive bidding process. Other corporations the benefited from no-bid contracts in Iraq included Halliburton and Bechtel. The latter was subcontracted by CAII to rebuild schools.

In spite of its Cuban fiascoes and Middle East shenanigans, CAII’s promo materials are extraordinarily cheerful. CAII “partners with civil society organizations, multilateral donors, national governments, the private sector and others to improve education, stabilize neighborhoods and enhance community resiliency”, proclaims its web site. And the contracts they keep a-coming.

Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is a Puerto Rican investigative reporter. http://carmeloruiz.blogspot.com/search/label/eng On Twitter: @carmeloruiz.


1)  Associated Press. “USAID op undermines Cuba’s hip-hop protest scene”. December 11 2014 http://bigstory.ap.org/article/7c275c134f1b4a0ca3428929fcece82d/us-co-opted-cubas-hip-hop-scene-spark-change

2) Mark Graham “USAID in Afghanistan” Counterpunch, December 5 2012. https://www.counterpunch.org/2012/12/05/usaid-in-afghanistan/

3) “‘By denying politics and fostering privatization… CAII diminishes the capacity of educative institutions to be a public sphere where such genuine civic engagement is possible. Of course, CAII’s way of ‘promoting democracy,’ though it may not foster genuine democratic politics through engaged political debate and deliberation, does forge allegiances to the sponsor of the gifts and unite dissenting views under the umbrage of USAID money. The emphasis on shifting media control away from the state and towards a private for profit system stands to encourage a reliance on foreign provided expensive equipment, a depoliticized media system in which the market and concerns with profit largely becomes the ‘neutral’ fabric of the new media. (Saltman, 2006: 46)” Sourcewatch. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Creative_Associates

4) Center for Public Integrity. “Winning Contractors: U.S. contractors reap the windfalls of post-war reconstruction”. October 30 2003 (updated May 19 2014) http://www.publicintegrity.org/2003/10/30/5628/winning-contractors

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Carmelo Ruiz-Marrero is a Puerto Rican journalist.

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