A few days ago the magazine El Estornudo published sixteen new testimonies about sexual abuse and assault allegedly committed by Cuban singer-songwriter Fernando Bécquer. The first five stories about this particular case of gender-based violence were published by this same publication in early December 2021. Since then, many people have wondered what is happening or what has happened to this case.
And this concern, quite generalized at least among we people who cohabit social networks, is related to the fact that the case in question has resulted in a public scandal full of tensions (including political ones) without precedent in Cuba considering the number of testimonies, the reactions it has unleashed, the participation of the media and the legal-criminal scenario as a center of disputes where the alleged aggressor is being prosecuted.
There has been a criminal complaint, so what should happen now and what should be the role of the press and of some institutions related to the case during the process? What should be reported, to whom and when?
The press during criminal proceedings for gender-based violence
Without a press with sound ethical practices and an intentional gender perspective, it is almost impossible to provide a dignified and careful accompaniment of the case.
At the end of February this year, a 20-year-old Argentine girl was gang-raped on the streets of Buenos Aires in broad daylight. The media did not take long to openly viralize the events. They exposed her face, they broadcast the images of the surveillance cameras, they referred to her social and private life. They repeated the events ad nauseam, on TV, in the written and digital press, and on the networks; they also did it with the terms of the complaint, the actions of the police, the details about the place of the events and the criminal process that was initiated. Barely ten days later, the attacked woman delivered a letter to the media in that country requesting that they stop the harassment of the press against her. Cases like this happen in all countries.
Indeed, the media commonly generate a revictimizing violence against the affected people based on the spectacularization of sexual crimes, generating morbidity and reproducing the logic of pillage once their bodies are offended through gender-based violence.
And the other side of the coin, which is still a matter of the same problem, is the contamination caused by the press on the process of investigation and administration of justice. They determine public opinion and judge without the process having concluded. In many cases, the victim is pointed out condemningly; in others, culprits, accomplices are fabricated and there is even speculation with the evidential elements. And those who are in charge of investigating and administering justice are imbued with this network of journalistic hypotheses.
These practices can cause irreversible damage to the victims and their families. Therefore, although the role of the press plays a fundamental role in reporting about a case, its accompaniment must be exercised with a rigorous ethical commitment from a gender perspective, non-revictimization and communication in pertinent terms regarding the facts.
The institutions, for their part, are not homogeneous nor do they have to act in the same way.
The courts, courtrooms, tribunals or prosecutor’s offices have, most of the time, their own communication channels (pages or websites) and through them they publicly report on the investigative progress of cases and facts, as long as they do not obstruct the flow of the actions. In contexts of great social impact or public scandal, they agree to give press conferences or interviews.
The authorities of administration of justice are not armored to give reports. It is healthy that it be done for purposes of transparency and reliability in the institutions, either through the exercise of the press or on their own initiative. Data such as number of complainants, number of persons reported, number of persons under precautionary measure, types of precautionary measures applied (pretrial detention, approach restrictions, bail, etc.), crimes under investigation, without further details, they do not hinder the presumption of innocence, the investigation of the facts, or the integrity of the victims. The bodies responsible for the administration of justice can provide minimal, but clarifying, information on the progress of the case.
However, although these channels exist in Cuba, they are rarely used for these purposes.
Institutions of another type act under generally administrative standards and, therefore, can apply measures even without determining the verdicts. Several cases are known in the world in which measures have been taken such as the cancellation of presentations when it is known that an artist has been accused of crimes associated with gender-based violence. They are responses linked to prevention, to administrative precautionary measures and also to the argued cancellation logics. The latter are argued as necessary before a patriarchal justice that often covers up femicides, rapists, abusers and stalkers; or is delayed for the benefit of those who commit them.
The “Becquer case”
The state press has published very little about this case. Alma Mater magazine has been the only medium that has alluded to the criminal proceedings opened against Bécquer. The feature article interviewed the first woman who filed the criminal complaint, referring to the time of filing with the National Revolutionary Police (PNR), and to the guidance and support of institutions such as the Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC), through its Gender Commission, the Attorney General’s Office and the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC).
#YoSíTeCreo: repercussions, ramifications and contexts of the “Bécquer case”
This publication took place on December 13, 2021, more than three months have passed and only that information is publicly known. The rest of the state press, which has more possibilities to publish interviews and to approach the authorities related to the process, has remained silent.
Other media and digital platforms have made statements or have published materials associated with the case, although without the purpose of clarifying the status of the process. However, the obligation to make transparent the status of a case of these magnitudes does not correspond only to the press, but also to the procedural authorities. If overinformation is harmful, disinformation is no less so, especially for the victims.
In these months there have been multiple complaints from testimonies on social networks.
On February 14, Liliana Héctor Balance (one of the first five women who offered their statements to El Estornudo) posted on her Facebook1 that she had not received any answers about the development of the process despite having written to the channels that were given to her. It refers to the fact that FMC — through one of the complainants who lives in Cuba — had instructed the complainants who were outside the island to write their testimonies and send them to an email that belongs to the prosecution, as confirmed in a conversation we had to write this text.
After doing what was indicated, she has written to inquire about the development of the criminal process but so far she has not received a response: “Everything remains the same. Identical. No institution has responded, they have not given me an acknowledgment of receipt, not only me, none of those who wrote to that email that was provided to us.” She has also not received advice or specialized accompaniment from any state organization or civil society. Instead, she tells me that she has been accompanied “by courageous women,” all feminists.
It is true that the criminal complaint cannot be filed when the person is outside the national territory, hence these testimonies serve to form part of the file of the accusations filed and of the investigations into the background of the accused, which I consider appropriate. However, testimonies should be informed of that or any purpose for which their testimonies have been required, as well as the steps in the process.
In a conversation with another of the women2 who did file a complaint with the PNR — according to what she told me, she is aware of around 6 or 7 women who have filed criminal complaints related to the case —, a differentiated treatment was evidenced. The first thing is that she has received legal advice from Center for Sex Education (CENESEX), and also specialized and therapeutic support from the same organization and the Oscar Arnulfo Center. They told her a month ago that the case was in the final investigation process (investigation and preparation of the file), and almost ready to go to the Prosecutor’s Office. “It is likely,” she tells me, “that it is already in that institution.” She was aware of it because she was summoned to the Havana Provincial Prosecutor’s Office in order to keep her informed and, from what she understands, the rest of the complainants as well.
Within the framework of that summons, she was also informed that the case has not been dismissed and that no complaint has been dismissed either. “About the progress of the investigation, I had not had more information since December 2021 when I finished signing the documents of my statements, except for a specific call I made to the FMC at the time that Ray Fernández [Cuban singer-songwriter] stated on networks that the case had been dismissed ‘due to inconsistency in the plaintiffs’ testimonies.’ The FMC and the PNR told me at the time that it was not true,” she said.
It has been reported that Fernando Bécquer has a precautionary measure, but there is no confirmation of this. Liliana understands that the accused must be at home after 11 p.m. and the second complainant interviewed stated that if there is one, she does not know which one it is nor has she been informed, but if so, “they do not fulfill their task. One of the victims found Bécquer in a music space in Havana in January of this year. The idea, the possibility of finding myself in the same space with my aggressor seems horrible to me, just as it was horrible for my friend; this has also been denounced and reported to the PNR and the Prosecutor’s Office.”
On the other hand, there have been several women and activists who, in relation to this case, have reported digital harassment by Facebook profiles, one is named El Bécquer de Cuba. Although the articles of the new Penal Code (which must also watch out for cyberbullying currently omitted in its draft) have not yet been approved, Resolución 105/2021 is in force instead, which does contemplate these behaviors.
Draft Penal Code and gender-based violence in Cuba (II and last)
In some cases, precautionary measures could be determined aimed at preserving the physical or psychological integrity of the plaintiffs when revictimization behavior by their alleged aggressor is suspected or verified.
The only complaint that I have been able to confirm was made on December 11, 2021, so the processing of this case must have begun following the old Law on Criminal Procedure, which contemplates the precautionary measure of Obligation Contracted in Minutes (similar to a limitation of freedom or a restriction of movement), through which the accused person must appear periodically before the designated authority, in correspondence with article 255.4. However, the new Law on Criminal Proceedings, which came into force on January 1, 2022, establishes in its Temporary Provisions that what is regulated in this new Law will apply to pending procedural acts that at the time of its entry into force were in process, being fully effective those carried out in accordance with the previous regulations.
Thus, this case can continue to be processed through the new Law, so other precautionary measures would be available, such as the prohibition of approaching the victims (art. 355.1.g) or home confinement (art. 355.1.e).
The Prosecutor’s Office was the first institution that, after the scandal and through its own communication channels, published a text related to gender-based violence, urging people who have been affected by associated crimes to report, although without referring to the case because the criminal process had not even begun. It would be opportune and necessary that, by the same means, the state of the process be updated with the minimum essential information in such a way that doubts regarding impunity are dispelled and, at the same time, confidence in the institutions is gained. It is valid to remember that, according to the National Survey on Gender Equality (2016), only 3.7 percent of Cuban women who have suffered gender-based violence in their couple relationship have turned to institutions for help. Trust, in these cases crossed by modesty, shame, guilt and stigmatization, is an essential element. We are at an ideal moment to win it.
The first thing that is needed, given the anguish expressed by the complainants, is transparency and communication with them from the criminal courts themselves. Misinformation, not knowing the legal status, goes against the complainants who are obviously not an active part of the process (although the new Law on Criminal Procedures already regulates this possibility and could be developed in this case). The reparation of the victims does not begin with the verdicts, but since they decide to set foot in the police station, or pick up the phone to ask for advice and help. Being informed constitutes effective accompaniment and is part of reparative dynamics within a process that, from the outset, is hostile to victims of gender-based violence.
The community, women as a human group and society in general also deserve some kind of information. The occurrence of this type of crime impacts communities, because the logic of hierarchy-vulnerability-inferiorization based on gender and also a sense of impunity is reaffirmed. Feminist justice does not only put into question that a particular case of gender-based violence be properly processed, but that this desire be one more piece in the strategies of dismantling patriarchy, of gender awareness and its violence, of the reduction of crimes of this kind and community awareness-repair. That is to say, that the individual case achieves collective, social impacts.
Statements by cultural institutions would also be very beneficial, if they are able to take measures that prevent the violation of the complainants in the public space. The case at hand is already in criminal proceedings. Therefore, taking precautionary measures, whether administrative, institutional or criminal, does not harm the principle of presumption of innocence, since the accused person has not been sentenced. Only that, in the case of crimes related to gender-based violence, of sexual connotation, with more than one complainant, numerous testimonies and, furthermore, mediating the public scandal, it is to be expected that there will be more consistency between the country’s efforts to place on the agenda and in its actions the gender perspective, and the real cases that are processed.
The second interviewee for this material, and who managed to file a criminal complaint, alerted me that, on the night of March 24, “Bécquer appeared in a video clip of a Cuban Television program…. I find it extremely deplorable that they continue broadcasting the image of that man on national television, and apparently this is not the only time since the complaints were filed in the PNR, as other people have confirmed that they have seen him on programs on different TV channels,” she commented.
It is desirable that the actions of art, culture and media organizations (such as radio and television) be seen in coherence with the widespread will of the State in its commitment to eradicate gender-based violence and patriarchal culture, in compliance with article 43 of the Constitution of the Republic. It is expected that the great aspirations expressed in the articles of the National Plan for the Advancement of Women, approved by Presidential Decree a year ago, become real and concrete in the practical cases of daily life, such as the one in question.
It is important to know that reporting cases has its costs and that these can be mitigated. Social denunciation (through social networks, digital media, manifestos, scratches, etc.) has the advantage that it is carried out under the parameters chosen entirely by the victims, but they do not escape stigmatization and, another main disadvantage, are its ephemeral effects. However, many people who have used social denunciation have felt very satisfied and repaired in this way, since their greatest desire was to vent their discomfort and point out their abusers, violators, stalkers by their names and surnames. Sometimes, the social complaint opens the way for the institutional processing of the alleged aggressors (channels that were kept blocked before the public connotation of the events), and even criminal (as in the case at hand, where El Estornudo appears as the social complaint platform, which led to the initiation of criminal proceedings).
The criminal complaint is presented hostile a priori. Testifying about behaviors that violated the sexual, physical and emotional integrity of the complainants, in a space that is unfavorable for intimacy such as police stations and in front of uniformed men as agents of authority, is an environment that is adverse in itself to speak of the so-called crimes of silence (because of modesty and guilt) and relive moments of humiliation. At the same time, the victims are generally disengaged from the criminal process,3 that is, they do not actively participate in it even when they want to and wish to; and they also run the risk of being stigmatized and revictimized in a process that lasts several months.
May this experience serve us to learn more about the various tentacles of gender-based violence and its complexities; that it is not an individual problem but a collective and structural one; that it be useful to warn, precisely, about scavenging practices in the media in general, to distinguish the press that we do not want from the one that we need; that communication on gender matters becomes necessary and daily in Cuba, since their/our violence is daily; that we jump the barriers of the police/judicial armor as long as it is done in an ethical way; that we impregnate ourselves with a sense of restorative, respectful, although firm and prompt, also transparent justice; that the institutions fulfill, in addition to their administrative matters, a social role of containment and prevention based on their own autonomies (for this the recently approved Comprehensive Strategy will be of great help); that the complainants can become part of the process if they so wish, as indicated in the new procedural law; that the accompaniment be careful, constant and, in the meantime, but mainly, that the victims be listened to and cared for, that they be our center.
1 The display of her full name and the reference to her post on networks has been made with her consent.
2 Her identity is preserved in this material
3 In the new Law on Criminal Proceedings, victims of gender-based violence are provided with more power of engagement and participation in the process, since before they were considered witnesses and not part of the conflict; this has changed favorably from the formal point of view of the new law.
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