Translated as “fatherland and life,” Patria y Vida is the motto of the 2021 Cuban protests for freedom. It stands in direct contrast to the slogan of Castro’s revolution in Cuba: Patria o Muerte, which means “fatherland or death.” “Patria y Vida” is also the title of Latin Grammy-winning artist Yotuel’s 2021 breakout hit celebrating the summer’s protests and introducing the phrase to protesters and the world alike. At Atlas Network’s 2021 Liberty Forum & Freedom Dinner, Antonella Marty sat down with Yotuel to talk about the protests, the song, and freedom in Cuba.
“I think if we summarize ‘Patria y Vida’ in one sentence, it is humanity,” said Yotuel. “Because Patria y Vida, as I said before, has two very important things. And that is, of course, substitute death for life. Death can never be an option.”
The “or” of the “fatherland or death” mindset of the Castros immediately sets up an adversarial, authoritarian ideology. There can be no room for freedom of thought, expression, or speech where “or” mentality rules the day. Yotuel describes it as blackmail. That’s why it was so important to him to present an alternative with “fatherland and life.”
When Yotuel first left Cuba, it was difficult to break out of the mindset the regime had brainwashed him into as a child. “The hardest thing about indoctrination is that you believe it,” he said. The government does not allow competing narratives or uncensored news of the outside world. Cubans had no way to compare their living conditions with those of the outside world. That is why increased internet access has been so revolutionary, to the point of laying the groundwork for last summer’s protests. Youtuel credits the success of “Patria y Vida” in Cuba to the internet, the same internet that now allows Cubans to read forbidden books and watch censored documentaries. He hopes that this access to knowledge will set Cubans free.
In a free Cuba, says the artist, people will be able to live the life of their own choosing. “I believe that Patria y Vida, beyond being a slogan or a song for Cuba, is a motto for the world. In other words, we have to be Patria y Vida, all of us.”