Patria y Vida
Young Cuba's Rebellion Against the Death Cult of Communism
I have been closely following the simmering rebellion against the Communist dictatorship in Cuba, for a whole host of reasons.
The fall of the Cuban regime would be a clarion call to start reversing the "freedom recession" of the past decade or so, in which authoritarian regimes have managed to reconstitute a more or less stable model of dictatorship and brass it out when faced with mass popular uprisings. The last big triumph we saw was probably Ukraine in 2014. We could use a new win to get the momentum back on the side of liberalism. Certainly, the Maduro regime in Venezuela would be in trouble if it were to lose its Cuban sponsor.
But there is something far more fundamental and interesting that is happening in Cuba, and it is summed up in the main slogan of the protests: "patria y vida." It's a play on an old Castroite slogan, patria o muerte, "homeland or death." In answer, the protesters are proclaiming their goal of "homeland and life."
This makes the fundamental issue of the uprising not merely political but metaphysical. This is not just about poverty or starvation or official corruption. It's not just about free markets versus economic slavery. It's not even, at root, about political freedom versus dictatorship. At its most fundamental level, this uprising is about the love of life versus the worship of death—and Communism stands exposed as a modern-day death cult.
Here's a good guide to the slogan and its popularization through a video made by Cuban performers.
"The phrase 'patria o muerte' evokes strong memories in Cubans who grew up with it. It originated in Cuba's Communist revolution in 1959, when the late Castro asked Cubans to 'sacrifice their livelihoods and even their lives' in service of the revolution, Azahar said. The phrase is still in common use today.
"'"Patria y Vida" critiques and reworks this national slogan by asking Cubans to imagine a form of self-government based not on austerity and homogeneity, but instead on sustaining the life of all people, not just the political elite,' she said....
"By alluding to 'patria o muerte' in their song, Guerra said, the artists behind 'Patria y Vida' 'gave form and passion to what Cubans want: their country's sovereignty and their ability to prosper, to grow, to live.'"
If you know socialism's intellectual roots, you know that this is in fact the fundamental issue, going back to Auguste Comte: whether the purpose of life (and therefore of government) is the sacrifice of the individual or his pursuit of happiness. Communist regimes do not end up in misery by accident or mere incompetence. They result in misery because that is their goal.
This report also makes it clear the extent to which the communists' vision has lost the people and in particular has irretrievably lost the artists and intellectuals—precisely the social faction most likely to back the ideal of socialism in places that have never actually lived under its yoke. The artists and intellectuals in Cuba—which definitely includes musicians, in a country that has long been a fount of musical creativity—have learned better.
"Romero, Bueno, and Gente de Zona members Alexander Delgado and Randy Malcom are members of the San Isidro Movement, a collective of artists created in 2018 to protest the regime's escalating cultural censorship....
"The movement rose in opposition to Decree 349, a law that bans artists from performing in public or private spaces without the approval of the Cuban government's Ministry of Culture."
Oh, and the other group on which the left claims a monopoly here in America (though they don't quite get it) is racial minorities. Hence the spectacle of Black Lives Matter organizers denouncing supposed oppression in the US, then turning around and running interference for the regime. Again, in Cuba, they have learned better.
"It's significant, too, that the song taken up by anti-government protesters is performed by a group that includes Afro-Cuban men.
"Cuba for years has considered itself 'an ally to the rights of black people around the world,' Azahar noted, from sending troops to assist several African nations in conflicts throughout the 1960s and 70s to granting asylum to black radicals from the US during the Civil Rights era. But black Cubans continue to face racism and harassment in their country, including from their government, Azahar said."
"This theft of wages, at home and abroad, constitutes modern-day slavery. Most Cubans have no choice in where they work, for whom they work, or how much they are paid. Those who work for foreign corporations see their hard-earned wages taken from them by their Cuban Communist masters without recourse or remorse. Some foreign investors, out of guilt, provide Cuban workers with gratuities under the table. Hotel workers get some tips in hard currency. But they are effectively slaves of the Cuban state, who are being trafficked out to unscrupulous foreign businesses that are willing to go along with this system of human exploitation.
"When the Black Lives Matter organization demands that the United States lift the embargo, it is arguing that America should go along with it as well. BLM is effectively advocating the use of slave labor—including Afro-Cuban slave labor—by US corporations. That's an odd stance for an organization that claims it wants America to account for the slavery in its past."
This, by the way, is the best and most devastating argument I have heard in answer to calls to lift the embargo. The embargo is not fundamentally about putting pressure on the regime. It is about banning the exploitation of slave labor.
But back to that Cuban protest song. The style of music is not quite my cup of tea, but the lyrics are pretty bracing, including a reference to the Cuban regime as the product of an "evil revolution."
Here is the central passage.
"We are artists, we are sensibility The true story, not the one that's poorly told We are the dignity of an entire people trampled on At gunpoint and with words that are still worthless No more lies, My people call for freedom No more doctrines, we no longer shout homeland or death, Homeland and life instead And start building what we've dreamed of What they destroyed with their hands.
"Stop the bloodshed For wanting to think differently Who told you that Cuba is yours If my Cuba belongs to all my people?
"It's over, your time has run out, the silence has been broken."
This is a revolution driven, not just by a desire to tear down the existing system, but by a desire to "start building what we've dreamed of." Patria y vida.
This is not the only protest slogan or song. The other prominent one is "libertad," "freedom," which comes courtesy of Emilio Estefan, probably best known as the husband of the singer Gloria Estefan.
"Emilio Estefan, Cuban American music producer and businessman, produced a new song 'Libertad' or 'Freedom' in English. Estefan said the song, sung by artists Yailenys Pérez y Joncien, was created to shed light on the conditions in Cuba and support protesters....
"Estefan in collaboration with the Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba, a nonprofit group, released the music video to Libertad Tuesday. However Estefan, born in Cuba, said they've been working on the video for months. In May, the video was shot in Cuba, with individual people capturing footage in secret to avoid repercussions from the government....
"'I tell people in Cuba when people protest they don't say I'm hungry, they say I want freedom. That's why I wrote the song using that word. The word freedom is taken for granted in the United States,' Estefan said."
The outcome in Cuba is still very uncertain, and the regime there may still follow the model of Venezuela, Iran, and Belarus: The regime gives up pretending it has the support of the people and instead settles into a permanent state of hostilities with its own people, a kind of slow-rolling long-term civil war. But I can't help thinking that if this revolution is successful—when it is successful—the Estefans are going to organize one hell of a celebratory concert in Havana.
This is also an answer to my question about what we can do to help, other than lending our moral support from a distance. I mean to ask what we can do to help as individuals, since the Biden administration is not likely to do very much. What I'm seeing is that there is a large, well-funded, well-organized, and highly motivated Cuban-American community in Miami, and they seem to have this well in hand.
But there is one simple and concrete thing we should be agitating for our government to do: bring the unrestricted Internet to Cuba.
"In mere weeks, the Cuban Internet has gone from half-baked workarounds to the full-on whirlwind of hashtags, algorithmic outrage and pile-ons that have driven us all crazy for years. In this case, this social media frenzy is aimed at a fossilized Communist apparatus whose dusty rhetoric usually graces state-run newspapers. The country's youths are transforming themselves into that cadre of media influencers who define the new culture and politics elsewhere. Perhaps unsurprisingly, those same influencers are often the impromptu leaders of a protest movement that exists as much online as off....
"The difference is that in the United States we've been building toward this digital refraction of reality, complete with head-on collisions between citizen and politician, journalist and random citizen, for two decades. Cubans, who have lived in an Internet blackout, are getting there in the blink of an eye before our eyes, under hashtags such as #SOSCuba and #PatriaYVida. A crack has been opened in the monolithic edifice of Cuban state censorship, one that the regime will be at pains to ever fully seal again....
"Last Wednesday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis posted an open letter calling on the Biden administration to provide the Cuban people with Internet, as did the Federal Communications Commission's Brendan Carr, who highlighted that the necessary technology already exists. On Wednesday, Assistant Secretary of State Julie Chung tweeted: 'We are working with the private sector and Congress to identify ways to make the internet more accessible to the Cuban people.' One option could be modeled after Project Loon, an initiative by Google's parent company, Alphabet, that provided Internet to 100,000 Puerto Ricans after Hurricane Maria in 2017.
"Unleashing Internet access would be a transformative end run around the Cuban government's total Internet shutdowns, something no amount of technical hackery by the resourceful Cubans would otherwise be able to overcome....
"Let the Cuban people tweet and troll and livestream—let them show the world the reality of Cuban communism."
Show the world the reality of communism—now that is a worthy cause.
But Cuba is already showing us the reality that youth and art and life itself are inherently opposed to this geriatric death cult.