In the midst of the days against gender-based violence in Cuba, where state institutions, the media, academic campuses, research centers and groups of activists come together to debate about this national and international scourge, with the optimism and zeal of so many years of work and that recently a part of the state network that will respond to this structural problem has been visualized, the digital magazine El Estornudo has published a work about five women who denounce sexual abuse committed against them by singer-songwriter Fernando Bécquer. The news forces us to come out about what has been debated for a long time.
The impact on social networks has had a connotation of great magnitude. Not only are the testimonies of the first women complainants in journalistic work being counted, but more facts and reports have been added that relate abuses with similar patterns by Fernando himself or by other cases. There have been colleagues of the singer who have shown him their rejection and condemnation; other men who have also spoken out against it with sound arguments regarding the complex phenomenon of gender-based violence. There have been campaigns to support victims such as “I do believe them,” others requesting a “Comprehensive law against gender-based violence Now,” and another such as “No is no.” There is also no shortage of cases that justify the aggressor and re-victimize the witnesses from men and women, especially those who surround or are closest to the singer and knew of his repeated abuses.
There are those who consider that the focus should be placed on the victims and no longer attend to the aggressors. There are those who reposition the magnifying glass to demonstrate the structural nature of this particular case, and the responsibility of the institutions. There are those who believe that this is a media lynching and, therefore, credibility should not be given to the complainants until the courts have ruled. There are also those who try to give it an ideological sign. Everything counts. All the pieces make up the same puzzle.
It is not a media lynching. When justice fails; when the police do not want to receive your complaint; when not investigated; when, despite the proof and the physical and emotional affectation, the aggressor returns intact to his home, to his work or to the streets; when the people in charge of administering justice (police, prosecutors, courts, medical personnel) re-victimize the complainants, what other way is there? What justice are we talking about? What cases go to court? How is the conflict resolved?
When the institutional apparatus systematically fails in cases of gender-based violence such as those reported in journalistic work, the first thing that happens is that the victims do not come to seek help, the second thing that happens is that impunity is generated and the third thing is that the only way that remains expeditious and without patriarchal bureaucratic barriers is social and public denunciation. I reiterate, it is not media lynching, it is social denunciation, that which occurs when traditional channels are blocked or, simply, when there has not been enough credit in the formal channels to trust them.
In Cuba we know about these difficulties, it is no secret. The 2016 national survey on gender equality found that only 3.7 percent of victims sought institutional help in the event of gender-based violence. Every year, during the days against gender-based violence that take place from November 25 to December 10, there is a discussion about the deficient action of law enforcement officers and law operators and, therefore, the need to increase their training. On the Yositecreo en Cuba platform there are many testimonies of women who have not wanted to file a complaint and have been left in a total state of vulnerability and defenselessness. In the networks, in the Facebook groups, on the walls of my friends, there are also cases of negligent obstacles to have access to justice. In addition to the testimonies where mismanagement of the conflict is demanded, which leaves the victims in abandonment or in the unjustified delay of the cases without even applying any protection measure or accompaniment.
They are problems recognized by the Cuban state, on which they are working and this has been constant news in recent months, however, the victims are in a hurry. The rush to rebuild their lives, physically and emotionally.
The “bad” victim. The “good” victim. The women who complain
Another significant barrier when accessing justice, but also receiving social support when mediating a public complaint, are the stereotypes that weigh on women.
Being a “good” victim implies having been a “good” woman, that is, that she meets the social expectations that are expected due to her gender and that her behavior is in accordance with the place that historically has been reserved for us: that she not go out alone at night, that she not dress too short or in a “provocative” way, that she leads an adequate marital life, that her image is in accordance with the signs of hegemonic beauty, that her social development does not attract attention or is disruptive to standardized common sense, that is, that she not be free.
The “bad” victim is, then, the opposite. The bad victim is the woman who “had it coming” because of her behavior, her image, for choosing the way she wants to live her life, the one who opposes following the standards of women’s indoctrinated life. They are those who are fiercely re-victimized and, consequently, (almost) no one believes them because they themselves “provoked” the violence they have experienced.
In 2019 the singer Danielis Alfonso, known as “La Diosa de Cuba,” publicly denounced the famous composer and flutist José Luis Cortés “El Tosco,” both belonging to the genre of popular dance music, for alleged verbal, physical and sexual abuse. There were expressions of solidarity and support for the singer with the hashtags #YoSíTeCreo and #NoEstásSola but, at the same time, she was attacked with comments about her image, her projection, several people were deeply offensive and humiliating, even for being a defender of a musical genre like timba.
The image of “El Tosco,” due to his recognition at national and international level, the prestige of his work and the social scale to which he belonged within the world of music, was hardly “damaged.”
“La Diosa” was besieged with countless criticisms, she repeated her story so many times she felt that her credibility was diminishing, only because of stereotypes that made her, in effect, a “bad” victim. In a live broadcast on Facebook, she denounced the malpractice of her psychologist who rebuked her for having spoken, for having told her story. The complainant, in parallel, had requested institutional support because she could be putting her physical integrity and her professional career at risk, however, although she was able to file a complaint against José Luis Cortés, he was never prosecuted.
However, the re-victimization with questions such as “why did she speak now after so many years,” “why did she not speak out at the time,” “she wants to benefit” or “she wants to do harm,” and simply “they are small-time gossip” are repeated in the case at hand.
Any, Liliana, Claudia, Silvia and Patricia have gone through the same discredits because, although they have not been attacked for the way they live and performing publicly, ensuring places in the prototype of the “good” victims, nevertheless, they have something in common: all are women who file a complaint, women who decide to tell about the violence to which they have been subjected by men who are public figures. They stop meeting the expectations that “not speaking they look prettier” and they are lashed out against them. They have been mocked, offended, and their experiences have been downplayed.
To the question why after so many years? Well, sexual abuse must first be recognized as such, not all women have the same tools to recognize in the short term that what happened was abuse. Some facts are more obvious facts than others, but when deceived and trust is used, authority and vulnerability to perpetrate a violent act, distinguishing it becomes more difficult and takes time. Abuses generate shame and guilt, provoke fear of possible reprisals, fear of social rejection, fear that they will not be believed. So yes, it takes time, in many criminal laws the possibility of reporting acts of this type is imprescriptible; in others, the term is 30 years and never less than 15 years from the age of majority.
The women who report, all and beyond “good or bad” because there are no “bad” or “good,” are just victims, they all go through the hard filter of re-victimization and stereotypes.
Three years have passed since the case of “La Diosa,” the debate about gender-based violence has been mobilized but once again social networks are used to seek some type of justice that helps victims find some peace and also to help others to “learn to take care of themselves” on their own. Three years of discussion and political disputes have gone by regarding gender-based violence in Cuba and today the stories of these five women again pierce our gaze to show us, once again, how “unarmed” we are. This complaint comes to reveal everything that is missing in our society and in our institutions because, alone, even if we remember some, we cannot do battle against the structural beast of gender-based violence.
The patriarchal pact, a pact of masculinity
If the abuses described by the five complainants turn out to be painful, so have, and even more so, the networks of complicity around the main aggressor. It is reiterated in the testimonies that the rest of Bécquer’s colleagues knew of his “misdeeds,” of his abuse, however, they never said anything and only kept silent. A complicit and victimizer silence at the same time because it encourages the repetition of the abuse and harassment and, furthermore, it reinforces them, since there is no one, nor any “buddy” to confront him.
This cover-up serves a male chauvinist pact, known as a patriarchal pact, which is (almost) never broken because it is supported by equal de-values of the construction of masculinity. Not for the sake of friends, or colleagues, or family. Under this paradigm, the one who abuses is as much an abuser as the one who allows abuse.
However, this pact of masculinity would not bear the fruits that it systematically reaps if there were no context that favors it. I am referring to margins of impunity, of institutional absence measurable in the low rates of complaint and in the few cases that prosper in criminal proceedings, and to a society ignorant of the issue and that naturalizes these behaviors by trivializing them.
The focus cannot only be on those who report, it must also be on those who are prone to reproduce this type of violence, mostly men.
Social care will continue to be inverted as long as the educational factor does not pierce the structural pillars of machismo and gender-based violence. In these moments, the victims are pointed with an accusatory finger, they are left at the mercy of atomized solidarity and without resources that can be provided by friends and other people, while the aggressors maintain the benefit of the doubt in their favor, they usually do not feel in the obligation to give explanations or statements (when the complainants wear themselves out not only in repeating their experiences but in continuing to speak out to reconfirm the credibility of the testimonies), they have the late response of the justice administration apparatus and the closed ranks of their close ones, who speak for them with phrases such as “he will clarify what has to be clarified” or “he remains very calm.”
The patriarchal pact, then, is not only between male equals. The patriarchal pact goes beyond interpersonal relationships and transcends societal organization, institutions, and the administration of justice, therefore, undoing it means, in addition to intervening in education programs at all levels of education with other patterns, that social and state structures be de-patriarchalized.
It is not an ideological problem, it is a political problem
The political polarization that Cuba is currently experiencing has also been expressed in the same case. Some people have pointed out the discrediting of the witnesses for having told their stories in a media opposing the government, and others have defended the alleged aggressor and friends for being revolutionaries.
With this type of manipulation, it is necessary to be decisive: it is totally inadmissible to ideologize the facts, the complaints, the people involved in them. Gender-based violence is a political problem and, as such, it must be addressed and solved, always bearing in mind that, even in particular cases, the phenomenon is made up of multidimensional and highly complex plots. In that same measure should be the answers.
If El Estornudo was the one that published the work, it was because other media the complainants approached to tell their story did not agree to do so. Despite the fact that state institutions and media have data, figures, credentials, resources, and physical presence in the national territory to carry out prolific and profound journalistic work, they have not achieved articles like this (at least regarding this type of abuse and sexual harassment1).
If the people denounced are called revolutionaries, then it will be necessary to work much more among the ranks of the Communist Party, Communist Youth, the political and mass organizations, the revolutionary and left-wing fringe, even if they are not militants, and with society as a whole. “Being an example of a good comrade in life and relations with others” has not yet been deleted from the back of the card of Union of Young Communist (UJC) militants, for example.
Therefore, let us assimilate that gender-based violence is a cross-cutting problem, precisely because it is structural, that means that Cuban society is formed on pillars of historical inequalities, including those of gender, then the problem is political, because it requires intervention of State structures, of the governmental framework and of the map of institutions. In them rests and sustains those inequalities that generate, among other things, violence.
If the manipulations from both sides ideologize this conflict, it is because they are not interested in the physical and emotional integrity of women, they are not interested in cooperating on the rugged path of achieving a life free of violence.
The response of the State and the political will that it has put on the table in the last year regarding the problem of gender-based violence dormant for a long time has been important. Among the most mentioned we can list the non-exclusive hotline for victims of gender-based violence, the National Advancement Program for women, the announcement of the Observatory of Femicides and other gender-based violence, the announcement of the Comprehensive Strategy against gender-based and intrafamily violence, the inauguration of counseling on gender-based violence in the counseling houses of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), the announcement of changes integrated to the gender perspective in future criminal laws, the inclusion of gender-based violence in the family framework of the draft of the Family Code and the Comprehensive Sex Education program. Although they are news, there is a certain institutional shielding that does not allow knowing about the content of most of these initiatives, and neither does civil society participate, in particular, women with experiences of mistreatment, harassment and abuse.
Of the policies discussed, several have only been announced, another’s entry into force has been suspended until further notice, the Code will have to go through the referendum filter, and the rest are just beginning with its implementation. Although they are cornerstones, it is clear that there is also a lot to do and that to-do and to-come are pressing.
In addition, if the articles in the draft of the Family Code are approved, the violence that is not limited to the family sphere is still quite helpless, such as, for example, the case of the five complainants and the rest of the women with similar experiences who have joined the complaint. Recently, the SEMlac-Cuba communication medium published on its Facebook profile data on the number of women who have died from aggression from 2016 to 2020. Unfortunately, the post was deleted and what I can remember is that there were more than 2,000 deaths, the vast majority perpetrated by strangers (relationships between partners and ex-partners, family and neighbor relationships, work and student relationships are excluded). Obviously, the section dedicated to gender-based violence in the family is insufficient, despite this great advance.
Regarding the case at hand, the response of the institutions is urgent. The Prosecutor’s Office published on December 9 an article where the author refers that this institution can act for the welfare of the victims even without a complaint. She also lists other entities where help can be found, as well as available phone numbers. She clarifies that the current Penal Code typifies criminal figures that conform to the conflict in question, therefore, it is a legal instrument that must be used.
However, it is necessary to remember the persistence of the barriers in access to justice already mentioned, and on this it is important that the complainants be supported. It is expected that the FMC will play a proactive role in the face of this scandal, that they can accompany the process that decided by the complainants or, at least, make possible protection measures and specialized care.
Regarding the criminal complaint, it does not have to be established only through an affected party. The procedural impulse can run ex officio, that is, the institutions can begin to investigate these facts that are already public and notorious. It would be a response in accordance with the commitment assumed to confront gender-based violence that has been widely publicized.
Similarly, it is imperative to legislate, create protocols, have specialized investigation departments, medical and psychological care, and criminal prosecution, to provide safe spaces for women to tell their stories, to create specialized accompaniment and therapeutic treatment entities for victims and victimizers.
Likewise, solutions to various acts of gender-based violence cannot be reduced to prison punitiveness. That criminal proceedings be the first and main remedy goes against the new society that we intend to build and that we dream of. Hence, the avenues for mediation, restorative justice, reparation have to take shape and form in our laws and in real life. The investigation-punishment-reparation triad with a gender perspective must be central to the initiatives currently being planned.
The announced policies need to become reality. The Comprehensive Sex Education program does not admit further delays, nor does the Comprehensive Law against gender-based violence.
It is true that laws do not work miracles, but we know the social and political force they have. Not in vain have so much effort and dedication been put into the draft versions of the Family Code. In the same situation, I consider the importance of a comprehensive law against gender-based violence breaking into the national scene. With the same clamor the Code and the Law, no more, no less. In addition, institutional resources exist and are being implemented with a more specialized perspective. There is nothing to lose by providing society with greater legal protection, and everything to gain.
It is important that women report, tell our stories, Cuban society is not the exception to machismo and patriarchy, it is necessary to take into account the magnitude of the problem, harassment and abuse occur in the same way on public roads as in our workplaces, professional life, schools, even hospitals. The cases of “La Diosa” and Any, Liliana, Claudia, Silvia and Patricia (who have been joined by more than twenty complainants) are just the tip of the iceberg.
Regarding the women complainants in the case of Fernando Bécquer (only if they would agree): unite in a collective voice; use institutions such as the Public Prosecutor’s Office to support the viability of the claim and avoid bureaucratic obstacles; also denounce by criminal means, which is the only one enabled at the moment, the crimes committed that are typified in the current Code; protect yourself and accompany the witnesses; claim responsibility for complicity; and that the corresponding institutions of culture and enterprises pronounce themselves. There can be no place for injustice or impunity.
* This text was published by the author on her blog Lo personal es político on December 10, it is reproduced by OnCuba with her express authorization.
1 I make the clarification because the Cubadebate column Letras de Género has published works related to child sexual abuse, adolescent pregnancy and child marriage with this profile, as well as media such as Juventud Rebelde and Vanguardia.