National Review
September 5, 2002

Rapping Cuba: A different kind of dissident.

   By Myles Kantor

    Cuban dissidents are old white men, right? A recent event indicates otherwise.

   On August 15, Cuba's eighth National Festival of Rap opened in Havana. The festival is part of Fidel Castro's
   campaign to co-opt Afro-Cuban culture — Santeria is another example — into his autocracy. (N.B.: Castro
   abolished black clubs, the blacks press, and persecuted black religious brotherhoods after coming to power in

                   Some courageous rappers took this opportunity to expose the regime's brutal hypocrisy.

                   Eighteen-year-old Humberto Cabrera of the group Papá Humbertico sang, "Police, police
                   you're not my friend, for Cuban youth you're the worst nightmare…You're the criminal…I
                   detest you, crazy man." For Cabrera, the Cuban Revolution is synonymous with ferocity: "I
                   clearly know the concept of revolution…I know that you're anxious to knock me down."

                   Two of his peers held a sign that read, "Social Denunciation."

                   High Voltage, composed of 25-year-olds Alexander Pérez and Norian Leygonier, voiced the
                   desperation of Cuban youth: "I'm tired of the routine...I hope to see changes with time, and
                   I'm one more that can die in the attempt." Thousands of Cubans sang along.

                   Pérez and Leygonier also stressed the particular suffering endured by black Cubans: "My
                   color brings you every day…all the time, the same persecution." Police detained the duo
                   before performing and demanded their identification, which they say is a typical occurrence.
                   (Black dissident-in-exile Marcos Lazaro Torres Leon notes that Cuban prisons are "filled with

                   These young Cubans of color are the supposed beneficiaries of Castro's policies. The website
                   for Cuba's National Library features ostensibly content blacks, and Castro's apologists like
                   Randall Robinson assert that blacks "are demonstrably better off under Castro than they were
   under the Batista dictatorship." So why didn't Papá Humbertico and High Voltage laud their benefactor?

   Maybe it's because black Cubans can't criticize Castro, any member of his regime, or their one-party dogma.

   Maybe it's because black Cubans can't assemble conscientiously or establish their own media.

   Maybe it's because neighborhood spy committees and thousands of informers monitor black Cubans for
   "counterrevolutionary behavior."

   Maybe it's because black Cubans can't leave the country without an exit permit (and to request a permit invites
   suspicion and stigma).

   "[I]t had turned me into a modern slave," comments former black prisoner of conscience Ramon Colas on
   Communist Cuba. Present black prisoners of conscience include Jorge Luis Garcia Perez and Oscar Elias Biscet.
   All three were born after 1959.

   Given the systematic violation of black Cubans' human rights, one would expect U.S. "civil-rights leaders" such as
   NAACP president Kweisi Mfume and Al Sharpton to call for their brethren's liberation. Mfume issued a press
   release in March criticizing Zimbabwean tyrant (and Castro pal) Robert Mugabe, but he ignores the captivity of
   black Cubans 90 miles from America.

   Sharpton has mentioned Cuba, although not its black prisoners of conscience or totalitarian violence. On The Chris
   Rock Show in 2000, Sharpton boasted about having lunch with Castro.

   Since police didn't charge the stage and beat the rappers, Castro apologists might claim this reflects tolerance by
   the regime. Mariela Ferretti, spokesperson for the Cuban American National Foundation, notes that the presence
   of foreign performers and press at the festival was "a deterrent to stay the hand of the regime, albeit temporarily."

   "Sooner or later," Ferretti predicts, "those performers…will probably be banned from national stages or other
   important venues; will be denied the opportunity to perform abroad; or end up charged with 'contempt' or 'enemy
   propaganda' under the current Cuban penal code."

   The rappers knew the regime can deem their indignation a crime, but they still sang the truth. "We sing about what's
   happening, we sing from the heart," Cabrera said. That's what makes them courageous.

   In 1993, the late rapper Tupac Shakur released Strictly 4 My N.I.G.G.A.Z. One of its songs declared, "Boom bam
   boom!! It's a stick-up/ Vice President Dan Quayle, eat a d*** up."

   The album went platinum, and Shakur never had to worry about being charged with "contempt" against Vice
   President Quayle. Papá Humbertico and High Voltage will be lucky if their trenchant lyrics don't lead to prison

   — Myles Kantor is a columnist for FrontPage Magazine and president of the Center for Free Emigration.