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Prison for singing in Cuba

Singing in Cuba is dangerous. And so is posting something on your social networks that the dicatorship does not like. About 700 Cubans remain in prison from the July 11 protests last year.
Jorge Ramos is the award-winning co-anchor of Univision's evening news and host of Al Punto.
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Two mothers show the photos of their sons who were arrested during the July 11 protests, in front of the court building where they are being tried in Havana, Cuba, Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2022. Crédito: Ramon Espinosa/AP

There's nothing more pathetic and shameful than a dictatorship trying to silence a song. Like the one in Cuba.

Since the song Patria y Vida came out in early 2021, the Havana regime has been trying to silence it. But it's one thing to ban it from the official radio and television, and another to eradicate a fight song that many

Cubans are humming in their minds. They cannot do that. And they won't be able to.

There's nothing more tempting than the forbidden. The moment a government says something cannot be heard, that's when the search for it begins. Here are some of the verses that made the Cuban regime tremble:

“No more lies
My people want freedom, not more doctrine
Let's not shout motherland or death any more, but motherland and life.
And start to build our dreams
Let's stop the flow of blood
For wanting to think differently
Who told you that Cuba belongs to you
Because my Cuba belongs to everyone."

The Cuban dictatorship cannot put a song in prison. But it can jail one of its co-authors, Maykel Castillo, better known as El Osorno. “Maykel was walking in Havana when police agents intercepted him to ask him questions, and they tried to arrest him,” Amnesty International reported.

Days later, they returned to get him. “On May 18 (2021) security officials went to his house and arrested him. He is being held in the Pinar del Rio provincial prison on charges of 'assault,' 'resisting,' 'attempt to escape detention' and 'public disorder.'”

And all just for singing a song. Maykel was put on trial and sentenced to five to nine years in prison, according to Cuban prosecutors.

Singing in Cuba is dangerous. And so is posting something on your social networks the dicatorship does not like. Performance artist Luis Manuel Otero got the same sentence as El Osorno – five to nine years in prison – for using the Cuban flag for a post on his social networks, according to the Spanish newspaper ABC.

On the Internet it's easy to find photos of Otero at a performance he titled “The flag belongs to all.” It shows him simply with the flag over his shoulders. And the charges against him could not be more vague. There was “an express desire to offend the national flag through the publication of photos on social networks … belittling the sentiments of nationalism and pride that the Cuban people profess for the flag of their homeland.” That's why Luis Manuel is in prison.

Repression in Cuba has grown since the pro-democracy protests on July 11 2021. This is what Amnesty International denounced: “After the peaceful protests across the nation, (Cuba) led by President Diaz-Canel has intensified a policy of repression, which had been applied for decades, that criminalizes peaceful protest, and jails and abuses all kinds of Cubans for expressing their opinions.”

About 700 Cubans remain in prison from the J11 protests, according to Cubalex. The number cannot be independently confrrmed. But what we do know is that Maykel is in prison and that his seven year old daughter, Jade de la Caridad, is publicly asking for his release. She appeared in a video made public by the singer Yotuel, another of the song's co-authors, at the recent Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles.

“Summit members, heads of state, even though I don't know you, from Cuba I want to talk to you about my father,” Jade de la Caridad says as she looks directly at the cell camera. “He in prison just for singing a song, and he's done nothing. Please, can you help me win his freedom. I love him a lot, and I miss him.”

Dictatorships destroy families like Maykel's and childhoods like Jade de la Caridad's. How can a seven year old girl live in Cuba calmly when she knows her father was arrested for just singing a song.

“We don't know how how to get out of it (the dicatorship) but we know how they work,” Yotuel told me in an interview. “Now they can sentence you to death for saying 'free' Cuba. They can give you 30 years for going out to protest. They can give you 15, 20 or 30 years for receiving payments to your telephone account from me or for someone who says you got a letter from a dissident. That is an attack on the homeland, an act of sedition. They do whatever they want.”

The key characteristic of any dictatorship is intolerance, the impossibility of accepting criticisms and opposing points of view. And Cuba is the queen of intolerance. Not only do they inprison those who ask for democratic change – after 63 years of tyranny – but also those who sing and those who post their art on the Internet.

But something already broke on the island.

Miguel Díaz-Canel and his cronies must be very afraid, if a song makes them tremble. They know they are vulnerable, and they fear the time of change is coming. That's why there's so much repression. They must be terrified watching the images from Sri Lanka, where thousands of citizens forced the president to flee after seizing his palace and going into his bedroom, gym and pool.

Of course, Cuba is not Sri Lanka, and we don't know what is going to happen on the island. But discontent with the regime is growing, and at least we already know how the song of victory and freedom will sound.