Editor’s note: Elier Alvarez is an Afro Cuban spoken word artist living in Havana, Cuba. Alvarez wrote this testimony in response to the protests against the government of Cuban president Miguel Díaz-Canel. 

When I think about what is happening right now in Cuba and in my own life, I only see Cuban hip hop. I see it taking into account that this lifestyle arose in 1979, and that for a long time and in a very isolated way from one another, each inhabitant of this country has been shouting from the rooftops: Hello world, here I am, I exist!

The world has turned a deaf ear to this need. It has really been much easier to see the claim projected in a totalitarian way from the top that prevails in Cuba and they have assumed it as the sole representative of millions of people, without even realizing the existence of a people without a voice or a vote, plus the sum of the migratory crises that it has caused.

So seeing what’s happened since July 11, 2021 and trying to argue the events from the discourse established and positioned at the top of that mountain since the 1990s, after the fall of the socialist camp, is the worst thing that can be done by anyone who is in pursuit of sustainable and balanced development of the world, because there is no doubt about its impact.

That is why today I sit down to observe my life trying to find calm and tranquility to show you —who reads my words— what the life of any Cuban is like based on my story. In this sense, I can say that in my childhood I was made to understand life beyond myself, that is, my ability to assume myself as a human being was nil; they convinced me that all that mattered was the people, however, who was in charge of achieving this, who administered it, and with it my own existence, really was and is the State, from a representative appointed by another designated representative as well and no one — absolutely no one — neither me nor the rest of my peers, chose them to do it.

In my adolescence, scarcity made me make the first decision without even knowing it: to get a scholarship, meaning, to leave home to enter a boarding school, only being able to visit my parents and childhood friends for three days after every eleven that I spent interned, and all this with the aim of becoming an athlete. The reasons for doing this were never clear; however, the fact that athletes appeared on television caught my attention. They wore brands of clothing that I wanted to wear and, since I was a child I have always liked sports. Later I realized that the vast majority of the Black men of my generation thought very similarly in that regard.

Afro Cuban spoken word artist, Elier Alvarez, in Cuba. Courtesy: Elier Alvarez

After a lot of wandering and dealing with the reality around sports I got frustrated, without even knowing at that moment what was happening inside me because the spiritual-emotional universe was a subject that was completely erased from our way of thinking. In Cuba, when they talked about spirituality, they talked about religion and religion was the opium of the people. So the only immediate option I had left was to spend two years in the Military Service on a mandatory basis and when I left I was already sick with ulcers —which have been with me for more than 20 years. And so it was that, eager to earn money when leaving the Service, I started working. It was very productive but it didn’t last long thanks to those totalitarian criteria that are used by the designated people around the dome of the mountain, and after the fact, my father encouraged me to get back into sports. In the same way, my preparation was insufficient to reply that sports would impede the growth that I envisioned; at the same time, it also prevented me from realizing that he was doing it with the aim of supporting me to achieve the goal of being an athlete.

After finding that another job satisfied what I wanted, the youthful inner contradictions grew, there was so much that I thought between 20 and 25 years of age that without any need I began to be afraid to think and that caused me a lot of psychological damage. Worst of all was that I did not know the reasons why it happened, since I had everything and anyting I wanted, which I translate into: I worked to be able to invent and the invention gave me the economic benefits that I had always sought. I can truly say that the contradictions between what I wanted in life and what it really means to live, had nothing to do with what I was living. That way of life forced me to lie to myself while I was lying to obtain the fruits of the invention.

Now, to the thing that was so damaging to me, the Cuban Rap Movement served as a doctor who diagnosed the disease and medicated to heal me, to eradicate all my psychological ailments, in the same way and from the top of the mountain, they changed the course of the movement and I had to search deep to find myself again, this time dealing with other toxicities such as the human pettiness of those who achieved a top space within this extinct movement, to the point that they managed to almost exterminate it, thanks to aligning themselves with what they proposed at the mountain top.

…The Cuban Rap Movement served as a doctor who diagnosed the disease and medicated to heal me…

Life invited me to make a decision and it was not difficult; I just had to assume what I thought, to act in a coherent way. The worker passed and the impetus of entrepreneurship —a word that I did not know at the time— from art, became my spearhead, my impulse and fuel. However, I needed 20 years to understand all this that I now have the luxury of describing with words, I needed to realize that in a universe in which institutions work to control a lot and develop very little, it is necessary to delve deeply and create concepts that form a base of subjective empowerment when you have the desire to grow and while you grow —with total logic and coherence— contribute to the society-reality that surrounds you, I have needed to do multiple festivals of all kinds and within them, create spaces for artistic interaction and debates to analyze what we do, how we live and how we do it and live it, based on what those who throw us on the sidelines, those who are at the top, propose.

Ifá, the spiritual base of development of the Yoruba people and their ancestral wisdom inherited by Cubans, tells us after Odu 7/11 —the day of the massive events in all of Cuba— Ojuani Odi: The monster came out of the Sea or, The Monster floated out. Thousands of people from all over the country, the majority from the town and without having those 20 years of preparation or being able to analyze the way in which they deprived us of our ability to undertake a path, were the ones who made the decision to go out and express their desire for self-determination throughout Cuba. We had never experienced a history of such national magnitude, like the monster that loses its fear of being seen by the world that surrounds us and the images on social media show it.

A week later, to the response of repression openly summoned after the manipulation of divide and conquer, they have made global institutions of historical respect such as Mason and others of African heritage such as Abakua, project themselves publicly to say enough, the people have a voice and the vote that provides freedom needs to be accomplished.

Therefore, the reality of everything that happened is that they were politically focused for many years and communicatively promoted, in the face of the country’s politics and foreign relations, the idea that anything and everything that happens in Cuba is due to the US Economic Embargo, thanks to the totalitarian power and the absolute control of the mass media, while designated people who responded to the interests of those who were at the top have been unable, for more than 60 years, to manage institutions that allow the development of the country In which we live.

Above all, it suffocates professionals who have the knowledge to move our country forward, forcing them to emigrate to other latitudes in search of a better future for their lives and that of their families.

The embargo is secondary, but it is shown in the national and international arena as something primary that affects Cuban society. This has made the reality in which we live invisible, causing evident social layers to be established and providing those at the top the power to censor and repress in order to continue to openly manage national and international public opinion, and for the to world believe that this has really been caused by foreign interference and removed the possibility of being able to shout from the rooftops: We exist! For the world to believe something totally different.