“¡Patria y vida!" for Cuba - America's Future

July 28, 2021

“¡Patria y vida!” for Cuba

By: D.K. Williams

¡Patria y vida!” is the rallying cry of Cubans protesting 60 years of communist oppression. It means “homeland and life” and is an explicit repudiation of Fidel Castro’s pro-communist slogan, “patria o muerte,” which translates to “homeland or death.” 

According to Cuban businesswoman, Mailyn Salabarria, who spent the first 27 years of her life in Cuba but now resides in the U.S., the meaning of Castro’s slogan was clear to all Cubans: “Fight for Cuban communism to the death.” However, in practice the slogan actually meant “accept Cuban communism or be killed.”  Since January 1, 1959, when Castro took control of the island country, “patria o muerte” has resulted in the mass murder, torture, and imprisonment of dissenters. 

In Against All Hope: A Memoir of Life in Castro’s Gulag, Armando Valladares vividly describes the summary executions and show trials of dissenters in addition to his own 22-year imprisonment at the hands of Castro. Be warned, the routine and mundane inhumanity and violence described in the memoir is hard to stomach. 

Just three years ago, in 2018, the Cuban government issued Decree 349, which prohibits artists from performing without prior government approval. The Decree also prohibits artists from selling any work without government approval and bans content that the government deems “sexist, vulgar and obscene ” in addition to any art that uses “national symbols” to “contravene current legislation.” In response to this government censorship, a group of Cuban artists in the San Isidro neighborhood of Havana have been actively protesting the Decree. Members of this San Isidro Movement have been arrested and are under constant surveillance. 

Out of this movement came the song “Patria Y Vida.” Cuban musician and exiled, Yotuel, is one of the artists featured in the song and the video. He said, “If you look at the words, the strength of the words is in all the words, all the phrases. Not just changing the death for life, but changing the or for the and.” 

(The videographer for the video, Anyelo Troya, has been sentenced to one year in prison for “public disorder” and the video has over 7 million views.)

An English translation of the lyrics includes this passage:

No more lies, my people ask for freedom, no more doctrines,

Let’s no longer shout “Homeland and Death” but “Homeland and Life”,

and begin to build what we dreamed of, what they destroyed with their hands …

Let the blood not continue to flow, for wanting to think differently,

Who told you that Cuba is yours If my cuba belongs to all my people?

In response, Cubans have taken to the streets within their own country chanting “¡Libertad!”  Contrary to the way members of the media spin the situation, the protests are not anti-American. As Salabarria has noted, “‘Libertad’ means ‘freedom.’ It does not mean “remittances,’ ‘end the embargo,’ ‘bring more personnel,’ ‘vaccines,’ or “toiletries.’” 

So, what about the embargo? All good libertarian economists understand free trade benefits all parties. Salabarria points out, however, that the Cuban people are not one of those parties. The oppressive Cuban regime is the party that benefits from free trade. 

Cuban dissident Rosa Maria Paya agrees. In testimony to the United States Congress this week, Paya said, “Lifting the sanctions against the Cuban regime is to give funds to the Police and the military, who oppress the people by obeying the generals.”

Of course many American “progressives” disagree and want the sanctions lifted. For example The New York Post reports: “AOC breaks silence on Cuba protests, calls for end to ‘cruel’ embargo.” The article does not indicate if AOC has spoken with any actual Cubans. 

But how “cruel” is the embargo? According to the United States State Department,

“Although economic sanctions remain in place, the United States is the largest provider of food and agricultural products to Cuba, with exports of those goods valued at $220.5 million in 2018.  The United States is also a significant supplier of humanitarian goods to Cuba, including medicines and medical products, with total value of all exports to Cuba of $275.9 million in 2018. Remittances from the United States, estimated at $3.5 billion for 2017, play an important role in Cuba’s state-controlled economy.”

It is easy to assume an “embargo” is a complete shutdown of economic activity. In this case it is not.

And do “economics” and “ethics” always intersect? American “progressives” don’t think so. Ben and Jerry’s is being lauded by many for its recent decision to close all of its ice cream shops in certain parts of Israel. In the 1980s, many governments and artists refused to do business with the apartheid regime in South Africa. That boycott was considered a just and “progressive” notion. Even today, “progressive” U.S. states refuse to do business in other states due to bathroom laws. In response to Georgia voting legislation, Major League Baseball moved its recent All Star Game from a city with a 54% African-American population, Atlanta, to one with a 10% African-American population, Denver. (This move, of course, was to support African-Americans.) 

Many arguing to end the Cuban embargo seem to be selective about their preference for free trade. It seems they have no issue using embargos as a form of punishment. Some Cubans, like Salabarria and Paya, are in favor of the embargo. They ask if it would be ethical to trade with a country with a centrally planned economy and no free enterprise that used slave labor? Where the labor is kept in ghettos with running water for only an hour a day, with no hot water and intermittent electricity? Where the labor was jailed and executed for dissent?  

No matter the ultimate resolution, Castro’s promises, like all communist promises, were lies. “Homeland or death” has become “communism and poverty.” The San Isidro Movement and its allies are risking death for speaking this truth. They reject “patria o muerte.” 

And all Cubans deserve patria y vida