HAVANA – More than six decades after Fidel Castro proclaimed the motto “homeland or death,” a growing number of Cubans are rallying behind the banner “homeland and life” to demand the end of communism as the island seeks deeper into misery.
“We believe not only that we will know how to resist any aggression, but that we will know how to overcome any aggression, and that again we would have no other dilemma than that with which we began the revolutionary struggle: that of freedom or death. Only that freedom now means something else: freedom means homeland. And our dilemma now would be homeland or death,” Castro (1926-2016) said in March 1960 at the funeral for the victims of an explosion blamed on sabotage.
But with “Patria y vida” (Homeland and Life), three of Cuba’s most popular musical acts – Yotuel, Gente de Zona and Descemer Bueno – have created a manifesto for change that resonates with people from the factions making up what has been a divided opposition.
“No more lies, my people ask for freedom, no more doctrines; Let’s no longer shout ‘Homeland and Death’ but ‘Homeland and Life,’” are some of the lyrics of the song that has become a sensation in the weeks since its release.
While the song/video has topped 2 million views on YouTube, its message has spurred debate between critics and defenders of the system put in place by Fidel Castro, extended by younger brother Raul Castro and now directed by President Miguel Diaz-Canel.
Paquita Armas, 71, recently added “Patria o muerte” (Homeland or death) to her Facebook profile to express her continuing support for the 1959 revolution that provided her poor family with free education and health care.
“Like millions of Cubans, I have said, shouted, written homeland or death for my entire existence, not because I want death, but because I love the life of my homeland, which the neighbors to the north (the United States) have been trying to cut off since long before 1959,” the journalist and writer told EFE.
For 21-year-old student Rosabel Joya, the revolution means scarcity of basic goods, the absence of civil liberties and a lack of opportunity for young people.
“I put the (Homeland and life) logo on my Facebook so they (authorities) see that we are numerous, that we are getting stronger and will go out to fight for our rights,” she tells EFE. “We want freedom, good salaries and a better life, and it makes me happy that more and more artists that raise their voices in one way or another.”
Joya adds: “we have always chanted ‘homeland or death.’ Why death? Do we Cubans need to die for Fidel Castro, for this dictatorship or for them?”
Not content with a hashtag or logo on social media, Heikel Alcorta got a “Patria y vida” tattoo on his shoulder.
“I got the ‘Patria y vida’ tattoo because I want to live in a country where nobody is judged for thinking differently and where people aren’t oppressed just for not having the same opinion,” the 22-year-old YouTube enthusiast from the central province of Sancti Spiritus says.
The Diaz-Canel government is taking the challenge represented by “Patria y vida” very seriously, as attested by a concerted counter-offensive in state media, especially Communist Party daily, whose front page has been filled lately with articles insisting on the continued relevance of Fidel Castro’s ideas.
One Granma writer described “Patria y vida” as a “disloyal and cowardly” song composed by “rats.”
Antagonism between the government and dissidents is nothing new in Cuba, but the degree of polarization is greater now as the already struggling economy faces additional pressure due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the intensification of the US embargo under the Trump administration.
Chronic shortages of food and other consumer goods have grown more acute and the few relatively well-stocked shops cater to tourists and the minority of Cubans with access to dollars.
And unlike the situation even a few years ago, the internet and social media are within reach for most people on the island.
Approaching pedestrians on the streets of Havana, EFE found few people willing to take a position on the “Patria y vida” phenomenon.
Among those ready to offer an opinion was Yudisleidy, a 34-year-old cashier.
“I like the song very much,” she said. “It expresses exactly everything we are experiencing in these moments and previously – everything that has happened to Cubans since the revolution triumphed.”
Ramon, an army officer who is the same age as Yudisleidy, had a different perspective.
“Yotuel, Gente de Zona and Descemer are Cuban singers who grew up here. Cuba made them great in the world of art. They were nobodies and they grew here as artists. They have thrown their entire Cuban-ness on the floor. For me, they are no longer Cubans,” the military man said.