(NEW YORK) — A Cuban rapper, who helped write the 2021 Latin Grammy song of the year, reportedly sewed his own mouth shut to protest his alleged mistreatment in a maximum-security prison on the island, according to posts on his social media pages, other Cuban activists and his wife.
In a photo secretly taken in prison and posted on his Facebook page, Maykel “Osorbo”—one of dozens of political prisoners the Cuban government has held since widespread protests two years ago this month—is seen flipping off the camera with his lips shut. A second, more graphic photo posted on Instagram yesterday clearly shows the stitches on his mouth—and calls for protests in the Miami area this evening.
“He is fed up with the abuses and with being unjustly imprisoned when the whole world is raising its voice for his freedom,” Cuban artist and activist Anamely Ramos González wrote—sharing a poem she says Osorbo wrote in prison, and shared with her during a phone call Wednesday.
“They broke my head with cynicism, but what they couldn’t do was break me, too. While injustice collides, I will not close my arms or close my mouth, I sew it shut nonetheless,” the poem, as translated from Spanish reads.
Cuban authorities reportedly removed the stitches the following day, Osorbo’s wife told Martí Noticias after also speaking with him last week: “He was speaking strangely, like when you have injured lips, an injured mouth, like when you can’t speak. I don’t know how things are going to be from now on.”
While the act of protest is an extreme one, it’s not Osorbo’s first, as he participated in a hunger and thirst strike last year. But this protest coincides with the two-year anniversary of some of the largest island-wide protests Cuba had seen in decades—with demonstrators taking to the streets starting on July 11, 2021, often chanting the name of the award-winning song Osorbo helped pen, “Patria y Vida.”
The song, released months earlier in February 2021, is a play on the Cuban communist revolution’s slogan “patria o muerte”—which means “homeland or death.” After Osorbo was detained that May, the song’s title became protesters’ cry in response to the dire situation in Cuba—its crumbling economy hit hard by COVID-19, a drop in tourism, global inflation and government mismanagement—but those calls for “life” in July 2021 were met by a violent crackdown and ongoing oppression.
“Maykel Castillo Pérez is unjustly imprisoned for exercising his right to free expression, for writing a song, for criticizing his country’s government. His case is emblematic of the situation faced by independent artists, writers, journalists and human rights defenders in Cuba,” Ma Thida, chair of PEN International’s Writers in Prison Committee, said in a statement Friday—using Osorbo’s real name.
Last week, Secretary of State Antony Blinken marked the two-year anniversary of the so-called 11J protests by calling for the “immediate release of unjustly detained political prisoners” like Osorbo.
“The world will not forget those who bravely made their voices heard in the face of extreme repression, including the more than 700 individuals who remain in Cuban jails, condemned to prison sentences ranging up to 25 years for exercising their freedoms of expression and peaceful assembly,” he added in a statement.
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