Thousands of Cubans have taken to the streets in rare protests over the collapse of the economy, price hikes, food and medicine shortages, and the government’s handling of the pandemic. Protesters have been shouting “freedom” and “down with the dictatorship” in demonstrations across the island, including the capital Havana. Scores of protesters have been arrested while others have been seen via social media being beaten and pepper-sprayed by security forces. One has been confirmed dead.
Amid the cries of “freedom” is “Patria y Vida!” – Homeland and Life. “Patria y Vida” is a song accusing the government of making life unbearable for Cubans. The song has become a rallying cry for change. “No more lies. My people demand freedom. No more doctrines!” the song says. It goes on to ask people to shout “patria y vida … and start building what we dreamed of/ what they destroyed with their hands.”
“Patria y Vida”, which has become a political slogan, is a spin on the communist regime’s slogan of “patria o muerte” (homeland or death), which was popular during the rise of the communist leader Fidel Castro. A YouTube video of “Patria y Vida” has been viewed almost 6 million times. The song is a collaboration between a group of Afro-Cuban reggaeton and hip-hop stars based in Miami — Yotuel Romero and Alexander Delgado — and rappers Maykel Osorbo and El Funky, who live in Cuba, NPR reported.
“The idea was to make a song that would be an outpouring, a song that would say everything to people who are against [the idea of] ‘patria y vida,’” Romero told Rolling Stone in an interview. “In it, we were saying, ‘It’s over — it’s done. The people want a change.’”
After the song was released, Cuban authorities arrested Osorbo and accused him of “crimes of attack, public disorder, and escape of prisoners or detainees,” according to the pro-government publication Cubadebate. He has been detained for more than 40 days. His supporters have made a complaint to the United Nations over the way he is being treated.
Pro-government publications also condemned the song right after it was released, describing it as “full of hate”. But this couldn’t stop it from becoming an anthem that has since been driving the biggest protests for decades against the island’s Communist government.
The protests began on Sunday with a demonstration in the city of San Antonio de los Baños, southwest of Havana, but it has since spread throughout the country. Cuba’s President Miguel Díaz-Canel has blamed the U.S. for the protests. Addressing the nation in a TV broadcast on Monday, he said tight sanctions by the U.S. on Cuba, which have been in various forms since 1962, is a “policy of economic suffocation”. He said the protesters were insurrectionists financed by the U.S. to fracture “the unity of our country.” Díaz-Canel called on his supporters to take to the streets and defend the “revolution”.
“We must make clear to our people that one can be dissatisfied, that’s legitimate, but we must be able to see clearly when we’re being manipulated,” Díaz-Canel said. “They want to change a system, to impose what type of government in Cuba?”
Meanwhile, U.S. President Biden has thrown his weight behind the protesters. “The Cuban people are demanding their freedom from an authoritarian regime,” Biden said during a White House event Monday. “I don’t think we’ve seen anything like these protests in a long, long time if, quite frankly, ever.”
“The U.S. stands firmly with the people of Cuba as they assert their universal rights. And we call on the government of Cuba to refrain from violence in their attempt to silence the voices of the people of Cuba,” Biden added.