Cuban soldiers threatened to kill President Barack Obama, vowing “a hat made of lead” for the American head of state, in a chant during a march to celebrate the 58th anniversary of the Cuban Revolution.
The anniversary is the first to occur without the presence of dictator Fidel Castro, who died in November, and was in part an homage to the communist leader.
“Commander in chief, command!” the troops yell in a video released by the pro-Communist, government-controlled CubaDebate website. “We will go to war if imperialism comes,” they chant.
The troops then chant President Obama’s name a number of times before concluding, “With what fervor I would like to confront your ineptitude/to give you a cleansing with rebels and mortars/we will make you a hat out of lead [bullets] to the head.”
The “cleansing” line implies a spiritual cleansing, a popular way to dispel negative energy according to santería beliefs.
The march is part of a greater military event initially planned for December but postponed after Fidel Castro’s death: the “Fighting People’s March.” As the government announced the event shortly after the U.S. presidential election in November, many speculated the intent of such a march was to intimidate incoming president Donald Trump, who had taken a hard line against Cuban human rights abuses as a candidate. The event also served, however, to impose the memory of Fidel Castro on participating soldiers and party members, forced to take another vow of commitment to the dead dictator.
While Cuba’s state-run media accused Trump of “inappropriately and vulgarly assaulting the memory of a man like Fidel” after he called Castro a “brutal dictator” following his death, the latest round of military exercises appeared, instead, to target President Obama, who has less than two weeks remaining in office. As El Nuevo Herald’s Fabiola Santiago notes, the anti-Obama chant is “even more extraordinary because Obama has only been a friend to Cuba, unilaterally lifting many commerce and flight restrictions at his political expense in the United States.” Santiago posits that Raúl Castro appeared to fear that Obama’s moves to embolden his regime have inadvertently made the American President more popular than his geriatric Cuban counterpart: “his visit in March awakened great hopes and expectations in the Cuban people, who welcomed Obama with joy and gestures of solidarity with the United States.”
Castro has shown concern with President Obama’s popularity among Cubans before, arresting one Cuban man, for example, for welcoming a U.S. cruise ship to Havana with chants of “yes, we can.”
Fidel Castro himself – or a state operative posing as him in the Communist Party newspaper Granma – had nothing but scorn for President Obama upon his visit to Havana in March. A letter titled “Brother Obama,” attributed by state media to Fidel Castro, accused Obama of discrimination against Native Americans and a patronizing attitude towards Cuba. “We do not need the Empire to gift us anything,” the writer claiming to be Castro wrote, joking that Obama almost made him “suffer the risk of a heart attack” with his speech to the Cuban people.
This week, Granma published a piece praising Castro’s letter to Obama as prescient “distrust” of “Obamista intentions” to promote capitalism in the country.
Aside from Castro himself, Cuban Foreign Minister Bruno Rodríguez has referred to the President’s visit to Havana as an “attack … on our values,” and state media referred to Obama as a “negro” looking to “incite rebellion and disorder” following the visit.
Obama did appear to get along better with Raúl Castro, however, with whom he attended a baseball game in Havana and did “the wave.”