Earlier this month there was a remarkable series of protests in Cuba with people marching in the streets and chanting various pro-freedom slogans. One of those slogans, which Jazz noted in our first story about this, is “Patria y Vida,” which translates “Fatherland and life.” That slogan was also used as a hashtag on many of the videos that were posted about the marches. For instance:
This is deeply moving.
Watch as Cubans wave the American flag while marching against the island’s 62 year-old communist dictatorship on the streets of Havana.
Never forget what America represents to millions across the world. #SOSCuba🇨🇺 #PatriaYVida
— Giancarlo Sopo (@GiancarloSopo) July 11, 2021
“Patria y Vida” didn’t make any sense to me at the time. The NY Times said it was the name of a rap song but didn’t really explain the significance. The first thing to notice is that “Patria o muerte” which translates “Fatherland or death” was a fundamental slogan for supporters of the Cuban revolution. Che Guevera famously used this phrase to close out a speech at the United Nations:
As the TeleSur video points out, the speech and the phrase are considered iconic in Cuba as a call to fight for the Marxist government to the death. But earlier this year a group of ex-patriate rappers wrote a song called “Patria y Vida” which quickly went viral. And the song is a direct call for the end of the Cuban regime. Here’s a sample of the lyrics translated into English:
We are artists, we are sensitivity.
The true story, not the one badly told.
We are the trampled dignity of an entire people.
At gun point and through words that mean nothing today.
No more lies!
My people demand freedom not more doctrine.
Let us no longer shout: Homeland or death,
but instead Homeland and life.
And start building what we once dreamt.
What you destroyed with your hands.
And the chorus of the song is even more blunt: “It is over. Your time has expired…It is over. We are no longer afraid. The deceit is over.” Here’s a version of the video for the song with English subtitles:
Financial Times reported in March that the video caused quite a reaction when it was released.
Official Cuban media were quick to blast the rappers as US-loving traitors and mercenaries. President Miguel Díaz-Canel joined the attacks, tweeting: “#FatherlandorDeath shouted thousands last night . . . They tried to erase our slogan but Cuba has sent it viral #CubaViva”.
This week, the authorities unveiled a musical counterblast: the rather awkwardly titled “Patria o Muerte por la Vida” — Fatherland or Death for Life — featuring five officially sanctioned performers, led by songwriter Raúl Torres, singing a robust salsa rebuttal to the rappers against the backdrop of a Cuban flag.
“You can cash in by licking the arrogance of the empire,” go the lyrics, referring to the US. “You can cash in by singing that you’re against poverty from a satin sofa.”
The response song is more of a song than a rap but there is some rap near the end of it. I’m not going to bother translating it but you can use auto-translate to get an idea.
The response of listeners has been pretty clear. “Patria y Vida” has been viewed more than 7 million times while the response song (which came out a month later) is still not quite to a million views.
When all of this happened there hadn’t been any protests in the streets yet. Financial Times wrote in March, “It is unclear whether the musical battle will resonate with ordinary Cubans.” But obviously it did resonate with a lot of Cubans which is why they were marching in the streets this month chanting “Patria y Vida.” And the phrase is being picked up by a lot of people here in the US:
Aroldis Chapman, pitcher cubano de los New York Yankees.#PatriaYVida 🇨🇺 pic.twitter.com/KZefnBXwQW
— Yulier Suárez (@VanYulier) July 19, 2021
A group of Republican lawmakers are getting in on the trend. Note the hashtag in Sen. Rick Scott’s tweet.
I'm proud to join @SenRickScott and colleagues in this important letter demanding international solidarity and support for the #Cuban people in their fight for freedom. #SOSCuba #PatriaYVida https://t.co/mDcyFeTxnB
— Mario Diaz-Balart (@MarioDB) July 21, 2021
The United States of America has stood and will continue to stand with the Cuban people as they work to bring down the Communist Cuban Regime.
Through Cubans’ courage, shining a light on the dark evils of communism, Cuba will be freed.#SOSCuba #PatriaYVida #AbajoLaDictadura pic.twitter.com/JevXSUiyxa
— Senator Ted Cruz (@SenTedCruz) July 19, 2021
Rep. Val Demings, a Democrat who is running for Senate in Florida against Marco Rubio, is joining in as well.
Last week, I met with Cuban American leaders in Miami to discuss the crisis in Cuba and the rightful protests in Cuba, Florida and across America. I strongly condemn socialism, and I know democracy and a free economy are the only path forward for Cuba. #SOSCuba #PatriaYVida pic.twitter.com/ibnmOqxcfC
— Val Demings (@valdemings) July 19, 2021
As a former Chief of Police, I believe in a simple rule: hold the bad guys accountable and relieve the suffering of those in need. #PatriaYVida https://t.co/2GcuZ3WlEz
— Rep. Val Demings (@RepValDemings) July 22, 2021
The only organization, other than the Cuban regime, which doesn’t seem to be on board at this point is the American media. This Cuban American has a message for CNN and NPR:
Cuban American Democrat rips the media’s coverage of the #SOSCuba movement. #PatriaYVida
— Giancarlo Sopo (@GiancarloSopo) July 23, 2021
It would be an amazing thing if the dictatorship in Cuba finally collapsed and the people of Cuba were free. And it would be pretty remarkable if a rap song played a significant role in that process.