A New Anthem Challenges the Cuban Regime

Homeland: Death or Life?

Photo: Juan Suarez

By Carlos E. García y Kathleen Connor

HAVANA TIMES – Hannah Arendt, in a famous 1963 text, emphasized that both the phenomenon of revolution and that of war were inseparable from the deployment of violence. To some extent, today, the case of the Cuban Revolution is no exception.

Under a 62-year authoritarian regime, the suppression of civil liberties permeates Cuban society to the point that simply questioning policies or leaders is tantamount to heresy. Calls for democratic reforms are met with the de facto response of zero tolerance. Meanwhile, recent protests of artists, musicians, and dissidents seem to spark new signs of change.

In a 1960 speech, Fidel Castro coined the slogan “Patria o Muerte” (Homeland or Death), referring to the ultimate sacrifice all Cubans must make for the Revolution in the face of a possible US military invasion. This trifecta of war-revolution-violence has pervaded the government’s official ideology, even decades after the end of the Cold War in 1991 and even though US interference has been limited to the sustained embargo.

Beyond external political-economic sanctions, an internal cultural battle continues to wage on the island, corresponding with decades of repression.

The most publicized recent dissident protest has come from the San Isidro group, especially those who participated in a hunger strike, condemning the arbitrary arrest and imprisonment of rapper Denis Solís. After Solís refused to accompany police for questioning November 9, 2020, he was summarily convicted of “desacato” (contempt), resulting in an 8-month maximum-security prison sentence.

Around the same time, a group of young journalists, artists, and activists, later known as 27N, demonstrated in front of the Ministry of Culture on November 27, 2020. They demanded freedom of expression and an end to censorship. Though first given dialogue, their efforts failed after a physical altercation in front of the ministry two months later. At that time, the Minister of Culture, Alpidio Alonso, attacked one of the protestors and the entire group was detained by political police. Additional arrests and periodic interrogations have targeted artists Tania Bruguera, Luis Manuel Otero Alcántara, Camila Lobon, Carolina Barrero, journalist Carlos Manuel Álvarez, art curator Anamely Ramos, and poet Katherine Bisquet.

In tune with the ongoing cultural war and in response to Fidel Castro’s thanatological motto was the emergence of the song “Patria y Vida” (Homeland and Life), performed by the singers Yotuel Romero, Alexander Delgado, Randy Malcom, Descemer Bueno, Maykel Castillo (Osorbo) and Elicer Márquez.

Whereas previous attempts to criticize the government have reached smaller audiences, such as with “San Isidro” by Havana singer La Crema, and performances from violinist Luis Alberto Mariño in Argentina, the current protest song, “Patria y Vida,” includes Latin Grammy winners Delgado and Malcom from the famous reggeaton group, Gente de Zona and Romero from Orishas.  

Photo: Juan Suarez

The song went viral, with more than 2 million views in a week after its release on February 16, 2021. It now has over 4 million. Subsequently, Romero from Orishas, along with other prominent Cuban writers and artists, were invited to testify before some members of the European Parliament in Spain about their concerns for the fate of Cuban people. 

The popularity of “Patria y Vida” over social media has allowed it to reach a greater number of viewers in Cuba than previous dissident protestors have ever accomplished. For this reason, the song is met with particularly bitter backlash from the Official Voice of the Communist Party of Cuba, Granma, reiterating: “Our only choice will always be homeland or death,” citing the words of Castro’s 1960 slogan.

This message was repeated on Cuban National TV, defaming the singers of “Patria y Vida” as mercenaries, terrorists, and pawns of Yankee imperialism – familiar labels given to citizens openly oppose the Castro regime.

On the ground in Cuba, activists who posted signs “Patria y Vida” have been denounced by mobs and their houses vandalized. Some, victims of the Cold War-era tactic of organized hate rallies and notoriously composed of plain clothed political police and fanatical government supporters.

Some of these rallies have been filmed and circulated on social media, as with the house of activist Anyell Valdés Cruz. She painted “Patria y Vida”, “No más represión” and “Abajo Díaz-Canel” on the facade of her home. A similar attack took place at the pro-democracy organization, Unión Patriótica de Cuba (UNPACU), and its leader, human rights activist Jose Daniel Ferrer, was arrested. 

The artists who created the song aren’t surprised by its popularity or by the Cuban government’s reprisal. Rapper Eliecer Marquez, a.k.a. El Funky, stated in an interview “This song is going to be an anthem of freedom, a very hard blow for the dictatorship.”

Perhaps most telling of the Cuban government’s sensitivity to “Patria y Vida”, besides banning its title on national soil, is the effort to engage in musical retaliation, with the March 1 premier of its own track, “Patria o Muerte por la Vida”(Homeland or Death for Life).

Apart from the obvious semantic contradiction of its title, the song describes the singers of “Patria y Vida” as subjects who have sold their souls to imperialism with the mere purpose of making money. It brands them as “sellouts” and “hypocritical puppets.” At the same time, the song claims to prolong revolutionary sovereignty for “62 thousand millennia.”

How long the Cuban government can sustain a motto of death over life is a question that will be decided in the weeks and months ahead, as more houses bear the sign “Patria y Vida” and as more protestors are detained.


Photo: Juan Suarez

Historically, the commitment to death as inexorable to the condition of perpetual war is an ideology that, based on the antagonism between friend and enemy, saturates Cuban politics. In the absence of a US invasion, the enemy from the north must be merged, extrapolated to the vernacular enemy to maintain the warmongering status quo, thus creating new opposites to reproduce the same dynamic.

Through this logic, it is possible to understand why the Cuban regime uses the recourse of the state of exception. Though not formally declared, it’s used to justify the suppression of constitutional rights and civil liberties in the face of any symptom of dissent. From this perspective, every demand for freedom and democracy on the island is interpreted as annexationist. That is, as part of an agenda drawn up in the White House. Government rhetoric, mobilized by a language promoting hatred and exclusion, reappears to perpetuate the death drive that defines the Revolution.

“Homeland and Life” proposes to reinsert all Cubans into a discourse of common existence on the fringes of necropolitical pathos. This does not only mean the condemnation of the deaths of thousands of Cuban citizens who searched for a better life. Including the victims of the sinking of the tugboat “13 de Marzo”, those killed by criminal gangs in the Darién Gap, or the balseros (rafters) fleeing to the United States and drowned in the Florida Straits. Furthermore, it includes the call to protect present and future lives at the margins of a totalitarian system.

Contrary to the mantra of “Homeland or death”, the vital force of “Homeland and life” appeals to the affections that can bring forth new discursive pacts and, in turn, proposes another place of enunciation of the homeland in which the symbolic ties that manage to crystallize into a community that finally unites both Cubans from inside and outside the island.

At the heart of this momentum for unity, Hannah Arendt’s diagnosis should not be discounted. To avoid more violence or sacrifice in the name of a Revolution that has become a silent reign of terror, it is vital that “Patria y Vida” becomes the “anthem of freedom” that Eliecer Márquez and millions of Cubans hope for.

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.

9 thoughts on “A New Anthem Challenges the Cuban Regime

  • Dan you are right as though I did not have the opportunity to live in Europe in 70’ because I was living in a island in the Caribbean where a king name Fidel I has made the the decision no to let any if his slaves to travel abroad. So another opportunity that you have for living in the brutal capitalist system that I did not have because someone else mede decisions for me. Finally in the 80’s I was free to watch any movie I wanted read any book, newspapers, travel, affiliates to any party and say whatever I want. But hablando de boberías i bet you did see any western Berlinés jumping in to the east Or did you?

  • Gentle de Zona are popular within Cuba and popular outside of Cuba particularly amongst the Cuban diaspora.
    Just a couple of years ago they did a show in Havana with the famous Italian singer Laura Pausini. They paused mid set to ask the hundreds of thousands in the crowd to stand and applaud the Cuban President, Miguel Diaz-Canel and thanked him profusely for attending the show. Maybe Miguel is a big fan of reggaeton and Italian Pop? Maybe he likes to be seen gettin on down with the ‘pepillos’ (the cool young crowd)??
    This public praising of Cuba’s President caused a certain amount of controversy amongst those in the Cuban diaspora who regard themselves as anti the Cuban Government. Gente de Zona were criticised by this demographic at the time, for being too pro the Cuban Government.
    So now, a couple of years later, a couple of the Gente de Zona guys are leading this tune which has gone viral.
    Perhaps these boys see the value in going out to bat for both sides?
    They sure know how to keep themselves in the headlines one way or another.
    The Cuban diaspora, quite naturally, spend a chunk of dollar on cds, downloads and merchandise and such like.
    Could be a great career move.

  • Olga, although we might not agree on everything one thing we do is on Dan’s inability to understand why people in communist dictatorships like Cuba might prefer a change. He didn’t answer your question about the East European countries not wanting to return to communist rule. They could if they wanted to. He also didn’t answer my question on whether he would accept one-party rule in Canada with no dissent allowed? Like you say, he seems to enjoy the freedoms of his country but doesn’t think other people have the right and need to demand some of those same freedoms.

  • What I think is despicable Olga, are Cubans like yourself who push for and support measures to make life as hard as possible for the Cubans who didn’t abandon their homeland for the easy life in the Yuma, like you. And when it comes to the East Bloc, deja la boberia, chica. I, unlike you, lived in Kreuzberg, West Berlin in the 70’s and 80’s, and used to take the U-bahn to East Berlin. I also have been to Hungary and Czechoslovakia. I assure you. You don’t really know what you’re talking about.

  • Make you wonder why a government is so afraid of protest song. Maybe the song says few things that are true. After all ppl used jump from East Berlin to the west never was the other way around.

  • Dan you are despicable for denying to the Cubans the freedom you enjoying in the Capitalist “Hell” you probably are one of those people that refused to admit that the European Eastern bloc people never wanted communism. Dan, one day the ppl of Cuba going to celebrate the end of this nightmare. I jumped in to the Florida’s strait in a small boat 40 years ago with my two children 5 and 7 years old and I would do again to aging my freedom. I wondering what exactly you defend from a dictatorship where nothing ( (except repression) works.

  • Dan you are the one out of touch. On the one hand what’s wrong with a protest song by well-known and popular Cuban artists criticizing a government/Party that’s remained in power by force and exclusion for 62 years. And you say they are naive for giving their views. Maybe you are the naive one… the Cuban government you blindly support sure doesn’t treat them lightly. They have already invested thousands or maybe tens of thousands to get loyal artists to do counter songs. Numerous journalists on the government payroll do the same. Likewise, they dedicate much space on the monopoly TV news and Round Table to attacking the critical artists, slandering them to no end, but they haven’t had the balls/ovaries to even play the song on their programs so Cubans could react. They only saturate with their counter songs, which I might add are pretty lousy. But whatsapp and FB have been vehicles to spread the word. Homeland or Life. Again I’d like to see you state that opponents of the Canadian government should be hounded, jailed or banished and that there should be permanent uncontested reelection for your government. You could use the USA influence in Canada as the reason.

  • I remember dozens of times that it was supposed to be the end of the Cuban Revolution. For example, when the Pope came to visit, when Fidel died, when the USSR vanished. Problem is, that these “dissidents” are like American Trump “Patriots”, they believe in their own reality, in this case, that the Cuban people want to give up their hard fought gains and join the ranks of their Capitalist neighbors, Honduras, Haiti, and Guatemala. They are going to be convinced by some second rate song by these politically naïve “artists” ?

  • I’ve been saying for several years that I will believe that things are changing in Cuba when “Chan Chan” is adopted as the national anthem.

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