A week ago, on July 11, the Cuban people threw themselves onto the streets and called for liberty. They stood in front of the Communist headquarters and chanted: Cuba does not belong to you. They tried to kill the fear that the regime has been instilling in them for six decades and began to take their country back. Our country.
I am the heir to a legacy of freedom fighters. I was born in the United States of America, on Cuba’s largest moon, Miami. A moon that orbits the Cuban sun and mirrors its twin generations across the Florida Straits.
When Cuba fights, we fight. When Cuba hurts, we hurt. When Cuba sings, we sing until the world hears our song. Today we sing Patria y Vida in solidarity with our island, a song released earlier this year by Cuban musicians, one of whom is imprisoned in Cuba — his artistic liberty considered a crime against the state.
The song is a play on the Cuban Revolution’s slogan: Patria o Muerte, Fatherland or Death. The switch of “death” to “life” is important, but the “or” to “and” is even more so. The “and” means you have a choice outside the state. The hope: a vote, a voice, a say.
We are all tired of death, of the Cuban government’s lies, manipulations, murders, mind games. Today, Cuba still employs tactics it learned from the Stasi, both on the island and throughout Latin America. You have only to pay a visit to the Stasi museum in Berlin to find proof of this.
At least 78,000 people have died trying to escape the Cuban regime since 1959. The government has killed an estimated 73,000 of its own people, possibly twice that number — no one really knows. Of those, 5,600 have been shot by firing squads, children included. These are conservative estimates.
My Cuba is not the Cuba of an influencer on a beach in Varadero. It is the knowledge that behind every tourist snapshot lie the crooked deals of tyrants, and dark torture chambers, hidden from sight, which the government has made to keep its control. My Cuba is not just a conga-sleeved cartoon, but the son Cubano, the gut of a drum — the hollow bowels beating out the pulse of a longtime longing to be free.
My Cuba is not the land of Fidel, “the president,” “leader,” “hero.” It is the land of Fidel the assassin, tyrant, war criminal, dictator — that’s his legacy. Those words need to be said.
My Cuba is my father dreaming of going back to Cuba but dying of a heart attack and aneurysm before his time, never seeing his homeland again. It’s my 98-year-old grandfather on his deathbed, saying, “You have to take the country back.”
From the time I was born, the message in my house was singular: Cuba Libre.
So many hearts were flatlined by the burden of exile before this moment and the possibility of a free Cuba. That free Cuba won’t happen, however, until we understand the truth about the tyranny that’s led Cuba and much of Latin America for decades.
On July 11, Cubans on the island began to blaze their trail toward this freedom by using their voice, under threat of death and prison. As a member of the Cuban American diaspora, over 2 million strong, I will use my voice — from the seat of freedom my parents fought to give me — to make sure my brothers and sisters are not left adrift and forgotten. Not again. Not this time.
Vanessa García is the award-winning author of “The Amparo Experience” and the hybrid audio play, “Ich Bin Ein Berliner,” about Cuba and the fall of the Berlin Wall. She holds a PhD from the University of California, Irvine.