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In new war of songs, Miami’s Cuban exiles prefer rappers’ ‘Homeland and Life’

MIAMI – A group of musicians with a love of rap, hip-hop, reggaeton, and Cuba teamed up to produce a nostalgic song in Spanish to protest the Cuban government’s propaganda. Cuban officials responded with a few songs of their own.

The dissenting musicians, who are mostly in their 30s and 40s, went after the slogan of “Patria o Muerte,” Spanish for “Homeland or Death.” In the song, the rappers say, “Let us no longer shout ‘Homeland and death!’ But, ‘Homeland and life!’”

Four of them are Cuban-American artists: Gente de Zona’s Alexander Delgado and Randy Malcolm, and Yotuel Romero and Descemer Bueno. The other two — Maykel “El Osorbo” Castillo, and El Funky de Cuba — are members of Havana’s The San Isidro Movement.

Chancleta Records, of Coral Gables, released the song “Patria y Vida,” Spanish for “Homeland and Life,” on Feb. 16. Ten days later, they were invited to the European Parliament to talk about human rights. The Economist deemed it a Reggaeton Rebellion. Reuters referred to it as a Cuban anti-Communist anthem.

“Before the revolution, we had a beautiful Havana; now we have ruins,” Romero told Billboard magazine about the moment when he decided communism was bad for Cuba. “From that point on, I said, ‘I’m not going to be quiet anymore.’”

Ramón Saúl Sánchez, a Miami pro-democracy activist, said he was proud of their courage. The song is about the failures of the Cuban Revolution, the armed uprising that overthrew a military dictatorship in 1959 and propelled Fidel Castro to turn the island into the first communist state in the Western Hemisphere.

Sánchez said he felt a strong connection to the “Patria y Vida” song. He was born in Cuba and trained with an anti-Castro militia as a teenager in Miami-Dade County. He had remained so loyal to the exiles’ subversive fight for a “Free Cuba” that he served nearly five years in prison for contempt of court.

Sánchez has publicly advocated for non-violent resistance since. The song, the 66-year-old activist said, “comes from the youth of Cuba; 60 years it says and people are still going hungry” and he added that it was being distributed in Cuba because “People are tired of slogans of hatred.”

Sánchez said the song has turned into “a sort of a movement of conscience” in Cuba where there is a new uprising. The San Isidro Movement, a group founded by Luis Manuel Otero Alcantara, an Afro-Cuban performance artist who was tired of government censorship.

On Nov. 27, members of the movement dared to meet in front of the Cuban Ministry of Culture building in Havana for a peaceful protest. By December, Erika Guevara-Rosas, of Amnesty International, was condemning “the disturbing” surveillance and harassment that the activists were enduring.

As of Wednesday, the “Patria y Vida” song had millions of plays on YouTube, Spotify, SoundCloud, and other music-sharing platforms. In response, the Cuban government has already released two songs about the slogan: “Conviction” and the “Homeland or Death for Life.”

In one of them, the Cuban government’s singers alleged the U.S. was behind the “hate” speech in “Patria y Vida,” and characterized the rappers as greedy traitors. The government songs haven’t been as popular, and critics have met them with memes.

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About the Authors:

In January 2017, Hatzel Vela became the first local television journalist in the country to move to Cuba and cover the island from the inside. During his time living and working in Cuba, he covered some of the most significant stories in a post-Fidel Castro Cuba. 

The Emmy Award-winning journalist joined the Local 10 News team in 2013. She wrote for the Miami Herald for more than 9 years and won a Green Eyeshade Award.