Gender-based violence in Cuba, from talking to action
HAVANA, Jan. 31st. January has once again raised the dust and sadness of the pending debts on gender-based violence in Cuba. The discussion, at least on social networks, has brought back the issue of a comprehensive law against gender-based violence, shelters, the level of severity in sentences, impunity, the invisibility of disappeared women, the lack of accompaniment of the institutions involved, and the scant coverage in the press.
The femicide that occurred in the province of Guantánamo triggered the most recent debate. In the first place, due to the use of inappropriate terms when referring to the facts. In addition, for the use of a firearm by a police officer.
On Monday the 9th, the discussion on the “Bécquer case” continued in an atmosphere of rejection of its protagonist for the publication of the lyrics of misogynistic songs with marked lasciviousness, published on the musician’s Facebook profile.
The wound of the bad legal-criminal treatment that the case had is reopened, and therefore the effectiveness of the sanction imposed, the work of the court and the high institutional tolerance in relation to the lack of transparency of the criminal process are questioned.
Everything condenses something palpable, denounced by feminist voices for years: in Cuba, there is no legal or institutional order that responds coherently to events of such magnitude.
There is a record of progress in essential areas: the Comprehensive Strategy against gender-based and intrafamily violence, the transversal treatment of gender-based violence in regulatory bodies such as the Family Code, the Penal Code and the Criminal Enforcement Law, based on the updating of the National Program for the Advancement of Women.
However, they are instruments that are not yet sufficiently grounded in the institutional and political dynamics of the country. The Program will have been approved two years ago and the Strategy for just over one.
In turn, they are legal mechanisms that function without a legal instrument that governs and organizes them. Nor does it organize the institutional actors obliged to deal with cases of gender-based violence.
In other articles I have shared the advantages of having a comprehensive law; and in others (one, two and three) I have accompanied the particularities of the Bécquer case.
I consider it pertinent that we distance ourselves from what the case represents as a specific event, to analyze systemic elements that relate femicide that occurred in Guantánamo with a mis administration of criminal justice in Havana, based on elements under discussion in recent days.
The criminal question
For both cases — the femicide and the Bécquer case — “the full weight of the law” has been requested, within the framework of the new Penal Code, which provides for more severe penalties for cases of gender-based violence. But it is not about more years of imprisonment or more drastic penalties.
As feminists, we appeal to criminal justice based on facts, that it guarantees reparation and non-repetition as minimum prerequisites that accompany criminal justice from situated gender perspectives.1 Unfortunately, the new Penal Code does not consider them; on the contrary, what it ponders is severity, without reeducation, without individual or collective transformation regarding events marked by gender-based violence.
Criminal justice individualizes a structural and collective problem. It responds minimally to the accusation of a guilty party and his punishment and ignores the social, material, cultural, and institutional conditions that make possible or promote the commission of this type of crime.
This simplification can be deconstructed and, in part, resolved in the ruling itself. The latter could force collective subjects and institutions — not the convicted subject — to answer about the case in question, pointing out the conditions of the context in which the events occurred and that favor them. It would work as a preventive instrument.
Prevention through sentencing goes beyond mentioning the fait accompli and focuses on the possibility of preventing it from happening again in the future. It should not be an impossibility for the Cuban courts.
Re-victimization and lack of gender sensitivity on the part of legal operators, investigators and medical and medical-legal personnel are considered among the main obstacles for victims to come to denounce in the first place and, second, when they do, the complaints prosper or do not end, as in the Bécquer case, with a sanction that is discordant to the events. Testimonials in this regard abound. State recognition of the problem, too.
A piece of data, although outdated (from 2016), from the National Survey on Gender Equality, strongly confirms this: of the 26.7% of Cuban women who were victims of some manifestation of violence in their couple relationship during the previous twelve months to the Survey, only 3.7% requested some type of institutional help (data are only available on couple relationships).
More effective policies are needed to reverse these figures and for complainants to go through the criminal process in more reparative ways.
The institutional question
Another topic of debate has been the public statement of the Federation of Cuban Women and the Cuban Institute of Music in rejection of the position of the singer-songwriter found guilty of crimes of lascivious abuse. Despite the criticism, accurate or not, public statements are important and are always desirable.
They report on a political position and, meanwhile, must lead to real and concrete consequences. Institutions are obliged to make this type of response and other more direct ones (prevention, care, repair, non-repetition, training, etc.). For this purpose, the aforementioned Comprehensive Strategy was prepared, although little is known about its effectiveness.
Public entities, the media and civil service officials have obligations and a commitment to the Constitution, which dedicated an entire article to gender-based violence. It is not a small matter; it occupies Cuban society in a transversal way; therefore, the issue does not escape the institutions.
Although the “moral” question of not allowing “the honor of Cuban women to be sullied” has been read more than once, the set of compelling reasons to respond radically to any manifestation of gender-based violence does not have to deal precisely with honor.
It is about preserving our physical integrity and life, with dignity. It is also about complying with the created statutes. It is about building a country with more rights and, meanwhile, more equality.
There is a lack of protocols, there is a lack of press that educates, there is a lack of inter-institutional cohesion that truly appeals to reduce gender inequalities and that gives Cuban women not a secondary place among its objectives, but a top space, intersected with other forms of discrimination and exclusion.
Gender-based violence is not generated on its own. It is not detached from other forms of subordination and social inequality. It expresses a continuum of inequalities, shortages, institutional orphanhood, sexist patterns and violence itself, which can end in death.
The lack of housing, employment, decent wages, possibilities of social care; economic precariousness; domestic overload; material dependence to reproduce life; school dropout; pregnancy in girls and teenagers; moonlighting without job guarantees; and the lack of institutional support in general; they also produce gender-based violence.
In the aforementioned, Cuba has worrying parameters.
Public policies: from formality to action
There is still a significant distance to be covered in terms of gender from the legal point of view; but with current regulations, it is already possible to articulate a series of policies, programs, or measures that deal with:
- Creation of shelters or homes for victims of gender-based violence.
- Creation of specialized divisions for the investigation of crimes related to this type of violence (prosecutors, courts, police), including the offices where statements are made or complaints are taken.
- Systematic training for legal operators, investigators, medical personnel and medical legalists on gender-based violence. (Sporadic training does not constitute true qualitative transformations when dealing with acts or crimes of this type).
- Curricular inclusion of subjects on gender in related university careers.
- Preparation and application of action and prevention protocols on gender-based violence in state and non-state institutions.
- Preparation and application of protocols against the disappearance of people, especially women; with suppression of the wait of the first 72 hours as a requirement to start the operational search.
- Establishment of a telephone line exclusively dedicated to complaints about gender-based violence. The one that currently exists in Cuba is combined, for example, with the confidential anti-drug hotline. At the time of writing this article, it was not possible to establish communication through that channel.
- Creation of gender patrols, which are part of the emergency policies against violence in these cases. Generally, the patrols are made up of a couple of police officers of different genders formed and trained to deal with such cases.
- Publication and systematic updating of data, censuses and surveys on gender inequality, gender-based violence and femicides.
- Participation of victims, relatives of victims and support organizations in the preparation, development and application of public policies related to gender-based violence.
- Recognition of feminist organizations with experience in the matter to develop an articulated work.
- Creation of observatories on gender-based violence and femicides, a promise made two years ago.
- Creation of entities that measure the effectiveness of laws and public policies in order to enable their correction.
- Ability to reform the Penal Code and the Criminal Execution Law so that, in terms of gender, they guarantee reparation and non-repetition, and nominal recognition of femicide in its different classifications.
- Application of the Integral Sex Education Program in schools, is still suspended.
The list is not intended to be a closed manual of initiatives. It is a series of proposals to contribute to a multidisciplinary framework that stops/decreases gender-based violence and, meanwhile, complements what has been legislated up to now.
A comprehensive law against gender-based violence and discrimination in its various forms, as well as a gender identity law, is needed, and we will not stop saying it.
1 A gender perspective located in Cuban criminal law assumes that the transition towards anti-punitiveness in Cuba (which many feminist activists propose) must be gradual and must take place according to the historical, economic, material and immaterial, social and geopolitical conditions of the current Cuban context.
Due to all these conditions that mark us as a country and as a society, it is impossible to go from the strictly punitive towards other forms of sanction and retribution and radically opt for prison and imprisonment.