The music of Cuban rapper Maykel “El Osorbo” Castillo slices through the myths and propaganda of the Castro dictatorship, and that is why he is rotting in a Cuban gulag.
The Struggle for Freedom: The Cuban rapper whose music shames the regime
Cuban rapper Maykel Castillo Perez discusses his uncompromising work that unites Cubans and exposes the myths of the 1959 revolution and its more than six decades of repression.
From the beginning of Cuban communist rule, Fidel Castro coopted artists and performers to promote the regime. They faced a choice: make approved art and remain (relatively) free and comfortable or face the consequences of being “outside the revolution.”
In recent years, the regime has faced a challenge from independent artists who reject this bargain, like the rapper Maykel Castillo Perez. His uncompromising work unites Cubans and exposes the myths of the 1959 revolution and its more than six decades of repression.
Castillo, who performs as Maykel Osorbo, is a co-author of “Patria y Vida,” or “Homeland and Life,” the anthem of unprecedented islandwide protests of July 2021. He is also a leader of the San Isidro Movement, an artists’ and writers’ collective formed in his predominantly Black and poor Havana neighborhood to oppose new, harsher censorship by the regime. In June 2022, he was sentenced to nine years in prison for alleged crimes including “defamation of state institutions.” Castillo’s real offense, and what the Cuban government fears, according to his fellow rapper El Funky, is his “power to summon” other Cubans in seeking freedom.
Cuba’s repression has perverse consequences: Last year a record number of Cubans arrived in the United States, fleeing the desperate economic and political conditions created by the communist rule since 1959. At the same time, the number of political prisoners has skyrocketed, even as the regime forces some artists, writers, and activists to leave the country.
Castillo wants to leave Cuba for medical treatment. The United States and its democratic allies should press for Castillo to be freed unconditionally and permitted to seek medical treatment abroad.
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