On February 26th, a group of Cuban artists and activists gave a talk over Zoom to the European Parliament as part of the third E.U.-Cuba Human Rights Dialogues. During the conference, these speakers expressed their fears about the level of repression Cubans are facing and asked the Parliament for its full and continued support in bringing democracy to the island.
“Cuba needs a transition process towards democracy,” said Alexis Valdés, a Cuban actor and comedian. “For this we need support. The world cannot continue to turn a blind eye to what is happening in Cuba.”
The conference was named after the viral song Patria y Vida, “Homeland and Life.“ Recently released by Yotuel Romero (member of the hip-hop group The Orishas), the song, which features some of the most famous Cuban artists both living on the island and abroad, has gone viral, reaching 2.3 million views on YouTube as of last week. The song’s lyrics and music video critique the current government and call for democracy. The title itself brazenly subverts Castro’s revolutionary slogan, Patria o Muerte (“Homeland or Death“). While Cubans have historically used music and art as a medium to express their political dissatisfaction, this song’s power has been particularly amplified by social media and growing internet access in Cuba itself. The EP’s international and political platform is an important step for the social movement.
“The collaboration between musicians inside and outside the island is a powerful message for Cubans and also for the Cuban state,” said artist, writer, and art professor Coco Fusco. “It overcomes the official discourse that always seeks to divide Cubans into good and bad, revolutionaries and counterrevolutionaries, islanders and exiles. United we win.”
In response, the government-run state media in Cuba has launched a campaign to combat the song’s message and discredit the artists. In a newscast, Cubans were summoned to sing and applaud in a campaign called “Dying for the Homeland is Living.” One contributor to Granma, the official media instrument of the Cuban communist party, wrote, “This song full of hate … that tries to exchange Cuba for 1 million YouTube views …Its hate doesn’t represent me. Its horrible lyrics don’t represent me.” Other pro-government media outlets called Romero, who is married to a Spanish actress, a “jinetero,” a term coined in the 1990s used to describe Cubans who engaged in prostitution, often with foreigners.
The oppressed have used art for centuries to express their pain and call for change. Now, the disseminating powers of social media can bring that art to wider audiences and help it to gain traction. The Cuban government has done its best to limit and control this powerful means of communication, but can no longer effectively smother the voices that critique it. In the face of damning evidence and direct pleas for help, the rest of world can no longer turn a blind eye to the oppression and human rights abuses inflicted on the Cuban people.