Who is Fernando Bécquer?
Fernando Bécquer (Havana, 1970) is a self-taught singer-songwriter who has developed his musical career mainly in small venues in Cuba, such as La Casona de Línea, in Vedado, a cultural center very popular with teenagers and young people, where he has performed regularly every Sunday accompanied by other musicians such as Adrián Berazaín and Mauricio Figueiral.
Author of songs often with aggressive language regarding women, such as “Y no me la dejes la caer y agárramela” (“And Don’t Let It Fall Down and Grab It”) and “Todas las pepillas me caen bien” (I Like All the Young Girls), among others, Bécquer is frequently seeing with his guitar in informal places like G Park, also in Vedado, Havana. A member of the Brothers Saíz Association, he regularly performs in folk festivals such as Longina and others that take place in different provinces of the country.
In spite of not being a renowned artist, he is very well known among young high school and university students. He has only released two albums: Cubano por donde tú quieras and El negro de tu vida.
Any Cruz, Havana-2012
Since it happened I have never talked about it. I’ve been in psychoanalysis for three years now and I haven’t even discussed it with my analyst. That day I was with a friend and we both decided never to bring up the subject again. She lives in Cuba now, I live in Argentina, and I called her and told her, I am going to denounce him. I think that if I weren’t living in Argentina and the fact I have been doing psychoanalysis for several years, I would not have assumed that what happened was abuse, that it was wrong, because it is not what they teach you in Cuba.
I was in my fourth year of Radiochemistry. It was in 2012. I don’t remember the date well, only that I was in the fourth year in the university. I used to go to G Park. I used to go there two, three or even four times a week. Fernando Bécquer was always there with the other musicians. We also went a lot to the Casa Balear.
That day I was with my friend in G Park. She was going through a rough patch, she was very sad, and we were talking about it. He came to greet us. My friend is into these mystical things of reading your fate and stuff, and he has his necklace, his Orula’s hand. So he approached her, started to tell her that she didn’t looked good, she looked sad, and offered her a religious consultation as a solution.
We knew he had a house about three or four blocks from the Literary Café on G and 23. We had not been there before, although we went to another house, where he lives with his mother, for coffee, once. We had a friendly relationship.
When we got to his house he asked me to leave while he stayed with my friend performing her consultation. I went back to the Café and waited for about half an hour, forty minutes, feeling bad, feeling strange. I was debating whether to go back to the Faculty and wait for my friend there or go to look for her.
In the end I went to look for her and when I arrived he told me that everything was over. My friend looked very sad, but since she was going through a personal problem I didn’t think anything was amiss. We continued talking some more and he started telling my friend that she had a gypsy inside her, so she could also consult and see the future.
Suddenly there was this weird atmosphere, he asked me some personal questions. I talked about my godparents, people I love very much, and at the time I was missing them because I was in Havana and they were back in my town. Between one thing and another he said that I needed a cleansing, and that a very effective way was through the genitals. I looked at my friend not knowing what to do. To some extent I trusted him, I didn’t expect that. There came a moment when he asked me to take off my blouse to be freer. Then I closed my eyes and did not open them again. It was very strange because I remained with my eyes closed, motionless, while he spoke. I don’t remember what I was wearing, I think it was a dress. He took off my panties, I don’t know if he also removed my pants or skirt, and began to clean me through oral sex, cunnilingus.
I don’t know how long it took or what my friend was doing while this was happening. I kept my eyes closed, I didn’t dare open them. When you are brought up in a society where your job is simply to obey a man, give him pleasure and say yes, the male voice is very powerful and you don’t know what to do, you don’t understand what’s going on.
That situation went on for a while, I mean, for me felt like forever. I don’t know if it was fifteen minutes or two hours. Then he decided that was it. I got dressed and left with my friend. From then on we avoided each other. I knew he was avoiding me. But I never talked to him, nor did he talk to me or my friend.
This happened at four, five or six in the afternoon. At his house, where he had all his religious things, his warriors. He was throwing a lot of parties there. Then I heard negative comments from several people about him and his parties. In fact, even my husband told me, when I let him know about Bécquer, that he always had a reputation for that. I was totally unaware of it.
Bécquer had been doing these things for years. He and everyone else who hung out with him at that time. It felt very weird to see guys that old with college girls.
My friend told me that when I initially left, he proposed a cleansing, and asked her to give him oral sex until he came, because supposedly the ejaculation was going to clean her. She did it believing that was it, you know.
We never talked about it again, it remained as a joke of the day we played “the fool.” We said to ourselves: “How stupid we were.” Women in Cuba have no way of knowing that they can complain about these things. I don’t know if there is any coverage of this kind of abuse against women. In my specific case it was very difficult to take any action.
That was the fifth time I was sexually assaulted in Cuba, which caused my sexual and romantic life to be a bit topsy-turvy. Now everything is better, after living in another country, doing analysis, getting to know other realities. My relationship with my husband is very positive, that’s why I have the courage to tell this story.
Lilliana H. Balance, Havana-2006
In those days I met a singer-songwriter who later became my couple for many years, Ariel Díaz. When we met, he was married, so we started talking on the phone, we had nowhere to meet, and he proposed that we met at Fernando Bécquer’s house, whom I knew from concerts.
I asked Ariel if I could trust Fernando Bécquer for that, and he told me there was no problem. He gave me the address. The day in question I arrived at Fernando’s house before Ariel did. Bécquer began to show me around the house, and we stayed in his room where I started to look at some books. He proposed to do a reading for me, but I told him that I did not believe in anything. He started to convince me that it was to find out what life had in store me, etc.
He said, “Sit down.” I sat on the corner of his bed, fully clothed. He said, “Close your eyes, put your hands on your thighs,” and he started talking. I was with my eyes closed, I didn’t know what was going on. I don’t remember very well what he was saying at the time.
At one point he touched my hand and my initial reaction was to move it away and open my eyes, then I discovered that he was masturbating in front of me. I stood up and said, “You’re crazy!” and left for the living room.
By that time, he had already come and everything, and he had a piece of paper with semen in his hand and he told me that I had to throw it in a place that had four corners. I told him that I wouldn’t do anything like that, that I would leave. Then he threatened me, so I wouldn’t say anything to Ariel, remind me that he had a wife and I had a boyfriend. I went out, I left. I could go into more detail, but I’ve been trying to remember for a few days and I don’t know.
In the end he put the paper in my hand and I threw it at the bottom of his staircase. Ariel didn’t have time to arrive, it was all very quick. Ten or twenty minutes was how long I was there. That night I spoke on the phone with Ariel, who complained that I wasn’t at Fernando’s house when he arrived, so I told him what happened.
His reply was, “Damn, that’s a shame, I’ve heard that Fernando does this kind of things, but since you told me you got along with him.” I said: “Well, I thought I got along with him.” Ariel told me he couldn’t do anything, because then his couple would find out. At the time, I only talked about what had happened with Mauricio Figueral, who was also my friend. He said to me: “Damn, I can’t believe you fell for that, everybody knows that Fernando Bécquer does that.”
What pisses me off the most is that everybody knows it, that so many friends know it. Mauricio told me that he also did what they call castings, which consist of putting two drunk girls who meet at a party to kiss each other, to undress, while they film them or whatever. I don’t know if they still do it, but they are all there, taking advantage.
When that happened I was 21 years old, it was in 2006, in April. A couple of weeks later I broke up with my then boyfriend. I never spoke to Bécquer again in my life, I never even looked at him. We never met anywhere, because if he was in a place, I would leave. He got me alone and took advantage of the fact that I was in a vulnerable situation.
Recently, when we decided that we were going to make this complaint, I thought that the only person I was interested in informing beforehand so I would avoid him an embarrassment was my boyfriend at the time. I wrote to him and told him what happened to me with Bécquer and he said, “I can’t believe it happened to you.” He knew about it too. So many people knew…
There are things that, as time goes by, you block out and you don’t even remember what it was like. And I want people to know so it won’t happen to anyone else. I haven’t slept well for days just thinking about it.
Claudia Expósito, Havana-2002
Fernando and I knew each other since we were quite young because he is a singer-songwriter and I have always been a follower of Cuban trova, so I was close to the musicians. In fact, I started working as a producer and did shows and events where this genre of music was very present.
We belong to the same group of friends. He and I were clearly not very close, we weren’t personal friends, but he was very close to my friends, even to a couple I had. We were very close. I would organize trova events and he was always around. We have known each other since we were 19 or 20 years old.
It was in 2002. I have forgotten many things from 19 years ago, but I can’t forget that one. I want you to be clear that in our generation the people in the trova scene know that Fernando had a strange relationship with sexuality.
I didn’t like the way he saw and treated women in his songs. I was in a relationship with a close friend of his, a singer-songwriter with whom I had a project and a life in common. When we broke up, it was difficult for me, and our circle of friends knew we were going through a difficult separation.
Then Fernando started calling me saying he wanted to come by my house to talk to me. I initially gave him the cold shoulder because I didn’t understand what he wanted to talk to me about, but he kept insisting and insisting and told me that he needed to consult me.
I am not religious and saw no need to get involved with that. I told him that I didn’t believe, that I wasn’t interested, but he kept insisting until he made me feel guilty, because he told me that his saint and his communication with the beyond indicated that he had to consult me. Then I thought: “Maybe if he doesn’t come to do this, something will happen to him, because the saints are saying that it is very important for him to consult me.”
I finally agreed. He arrived at about ten o’clock at night. At that time, I already had a little girl. It was late when he began to consult me. First he asked me to put on a light, white, loose-fitting garment. At first I didn’t understand that and said: “That’s not the way they do it in other places.” But I went to the room anyway, put on a long t-shirt and came back.
He started consulting me, but I didn’t believe anything the cowrie shells were telling him. At that moment he had no connection with anything supernatural because what he was saying was not true. He asked me to take off my clothes. I told him: “Fernando, is that what your saints are saying I have to do? Well, tell them that I cannot do this if I feel uncomfortable, there will be no connection and they will not be able to help me in anything if I am uncomfortable.” He agreed and asked me to lie down on the couch.
I kept trying not to bother him, to let him do what he had to do, I don’t even know why. Evidently it was very important for him. He made like a honey and rum concoction and started smearing it on my back. It was very unpleasant. It has been 19 years and I remember it vividly. At that point he asked me to turn around. That meant he was going to grope me all over, spread the honey over my breasts. So I stood up and said, “Fernando, I don’t believe in your saints. Please get out of this house.”
That was it, apparently it may not seem terrible, but it speaks of his tactics and his lies to get his hands on every woman around, because I was very close, very close to his friends, and I told them all.
You can ask most of the singers-songwriters, and they have heard this story. What they would say was: “How crazy Fernando is! He even does that with you.” We all knew that he could violate a woman’s space through sexuality, lies and manipulation.
Afterwards, I acted as if nothing had happened, I think that in my own spirit it was as if nothing had happened. But no, because I really remember it so vividly every time I hear a story of Fernando.
I find his songs offensive, misogynistic, disrespectful to the public. If I am in a club or in a festival and he sings I get up and leave. Sometimes we say hello, we talk about something if we see each other, but he has never come to my house and I have never invited him to any event. If I ever see him, it’s because of mutual friends.
He was also famous for organizing some kind of castings, every time he went to any festival, the Longina, the Romerías de Mayo, Al Sur de mi Mochila, Canción al Padre. In any trova festival they were invited to, they made those castings; they took advantage of the girls who went to his room, they manipulated them, because they were a group of singer-songwriters from Havana. Coming from Havana gives them a lot of pull.
It could be that at this point they think it’s acceptable, maybe, but I didn’t like it at all. We knew that Fernando was disturbed, his songs show it. It was known at some point, but there were not so many women’s testimonies.
I know these stories from Fernando, because he likes to talk about his exploits. The girls that approached them, the so-called groupies, they invited these girls to the hotel room and told them they were going to make a casting for a video clip.
The girls would show themselves, in many cases. He said that they didn’t go so far as to get naked, but they would show themselves, and in several cases they got the girl to take off her blouse or her clothes completely. I was never there, but I know this from his own testimony.
I have suppressed this so much. I was not raped because it had already happened to me before with the same religion story.
When I began to study design at the Faculty of Design, there were bimonthly shows of Adrián Berazaín and Fernando Bécquer. When you see a person who almost every month goes to your school, who is an artist, and you meet him, and he seems like a cool person, you trust him. I also went a lot to Casona de Línea, to G Street, to the Café Literario, where he also went a lot.
What was the situation like? I don’t remember, because I have tried to forget it, and I only talked about it once with my best friend, to whom the same thing happened.
I don’t really remember if it was at night or in the afternoon. I know I met him on G Street or at the Café Literario.
I had been drinking, but I wasn’t drunk. I must have been alone and I met him and we started to talk. He started to tell me that he could help me, because he said that I had a dark spirit, something other people had told me before. Then he said that I had to make a breaking, and a ceremony so that the dark spirit would leave me alone and I could move forward in life.
He told me that his house was very close, that we should go there and so he could consult the cowrie shells for me, so I accepted. What was I going to think, I have met him before, I had seen him a thousand times and he moved in the same circles as me. I didn’t think there was any danger.
We went up to his house, I thought everything was normal, and there he began to perform his ritual. I don’t know much about religion. At one point he sat down next to me, started to run his hand down my leg and I asked him not to touch me. He started masturbating and I don’t remember very well what happened.
I know I panicked because I remembered what had happened to me before and I said to myself, “This is not right, I have to get out of here.” I think I said, “Look, I’m leaving, this is not right, I don’t like you.” He said, “I’ll go with you,” and even though I refused he went with me to the corner of 23 and G.
The thing is not that he didn’t rape me, but the intention, because he took me to the house to see what might happen. I think I was 19 or 20 years old. It was at that time. But when something like that happens to you, something you don’t want to remember, you forget a lot of details. After that, I never looked at or spoke to Bécquer again. Nor did I confront him. If he stood near me, I left. I just tried to forget about him.
I think all of them are depraved; Bécquer, who may be a sick person, with some psychiatric or psychological disorder, and his friends, who know what he does, know the details, and do nothing and say nothing to him.
Leaving Cuba helped me to open my mind to so many things that they don’t teach us there, like that one can complain, like that there are things that are wrong. One does not take it into account, it is as if it did not exist; I came to realize everything when I left Cuba.
It happened in 2008. I was 18 or 19 years old. I was going through a very difficult time in my life, which is no justification, but it influenced me to become more vulnerable to other people’s shows of affection.
I was not living at home, but at my sister’s house, which was closer to the area of La Rampa. I began to frequent the world of the trova, I went to the clubs, and people began to know who I was. I made friends.
Now, at the age of 32, it’s very obvious. Just by looking at my face, any adult would have understood that something was wrong with me. He approached me as if he were a wizard, as if he had guessed it, as if the saints had told him. At that moment I thought it was really something esoteric. We were at a concert of his with Berazaín at the Pabellón Cuba. It was not the first time I had seen him. He asked me why I was sad; he told me he knew how to help me, and I, in my innocence, because I did not expect that such a person, a well-known artist, would have bad intentions, I accepted.
I did not expect evil, to tell you the truth, I did not expect it. He told me: “I can help you, come with me, I’ll show you.” Everybody saw us leaving together, and I digress here because some days later we met in a club and Bécquer himself told me that Berazaín told him: “Dude, not with her, she is a good person.”
That’s why I tell you, I know that the people around him knew. He has a sort of a strategy; many people know it. He follows a pattern. We went to his house near C Street. I was distrustful. He told me he was going to consult the cowrie shells so that my situation would be clarified. As we were walking up the stairs to his house, I asked him, suspicious, if we could leave the door open. He told me no, that we were going to perform a ceremony, so that was not possible. Instead, he offered to leave the window open, and I agreed.
I think that’s when he realized that with me he was going to have to use another type of con. He sat in a corner and I sat on a bench. He consulted the cowrie shells for me, I don’t know if it’s real or not. I would say no. He told me to ask a question in my mind, then the shells would say yes or no. Interestingly, I don’t know if it was a process of suggestion, whatever I asked, the shells answered it mostly right. At one point, when he supposedly finished with this, he told me that I had to give something to the saint. Exactly how we got there I don’t remember, but he told me that we had to go to the bedroom due to something to do with the saint, and he told me that what the saint wanted he could not do.
That is, the saint wanted to sleep with me and he, as a gentleman, had said no, so the saint would look like the bad guy. I did not understand the process. He didn’t make much sense, but, well, those mystical things often have no explanation. He said that the bad thing I had had to be taken out somehow, the saint had to pick it up and he was going to release it. So we went to his bedroom, he told me to close my eyes, we lay side by side on the bed, he pulled down his pants and asked me to touch his belly.
I kept asking him, “Why do we have to do this?” I would ask him to explain it to me again. He would reply that the saint was going to pick up through him all the bad energy and what was burdening me, and it had to be released somehow. In this case he meant releasing it through the semen.
I was intimidated the whole time, he’s a man three times my size. I was uncomfortable. After asking me to close my eyes and caress his belly he asked me to touch his testicles. I took my hand away again, asked him if there was no other way to do it, but he said that was the kind of ceremony I required.
My thinking was always the same: the faster I get out of this, the better. It was very uncomfortable, I kept asking him why the whole time and would take my hand away. I kept pestering him, and he couldn’t relax. Then he told me to stay there; I sat with my back to him and he asked me to continue with my eyes closed.
Apparently, he finished masturbating and ejaculated on a piece of paper. He closed it, buttoned his shirt and we walked out. He gave me a whole explanation about how you had to throw the piece of paper away and leave by a different corner than the one you come in. Then he began to talk to me about Cuban trova and its musicians, and accompanied me to my sister’s house.
That was the first episode. I saw it as a consultation, I felt uncomfortable, but at the time I did not assume it was as serious as I see it now. He told me that we were already brother and sister, that after that we were family. Three days later I went to another club and I saw him again. He asked me how I was doing, if things were improving for me, and he told me that he would invite me to his mother’s house to meet her.
His mother lived in a building on G Street. That house was different from his, one could say that it was a luxury house in Cuba. On the way there he had asked me about my favorite color, I said blue, and when we went upstairs he took me to a blue room. Apparently there were rooms of different colors.
The mother was in the living room, sewing, which makes me think she knows, because an older woman, with life experience, won’t she know what her son is up to? I said hi to her. Once in the room I asked him if his mother wouldn’t ask what I was doing there. He told me that his mother kept her distance, that she thought he was taking his friends there so he could play the guitar and sing to them.
The same thing happened, in the same way. We lay on our backs side by side, he told me to close my eyes, to caress his belly, his testicles. I kept questioning him the whole time, asking him if we couldn’t use another method. I was stroking him for very short intervals, because something inside me was telling me that this was not right. I think it happens to everyone who goes through moments like that.
On that occasion he didn’t consult the cowrie shells, he went straight to the subject, exactly like the first time. He asked me to sit down, to closed my eyes, and he masturbated and came on a piece of paper from notebook. Then he put the paper away and began to show me the room, the guitar, as if nothing had happened. He played a song, I guess so his mother would hear him. Then we left, he threw the paper away, and repeated that we should always leave through a different corner. I guess these are lines he has to validate his story.
This second meeting was spontaneous, supposedly spontaneous. I wouldn’t have met again to do something so unpleasant, but we ran into each other a lot, at the same concerts; we all knew each other in one way or another. After that I met a guy, also a singer-songwriter, and I became his girlfriend. When I told that guy that I had met Fernando he told me: “Don’t tell me you went to Fernando’s house.” I told him yes, and he said: “Ah, damn, Fernando is a pig, yes, he does this.”
I kept my distance from Fernando because I was seeing this guy, and I think that’s why he didn’t try it with me again. If I hadn’t found a boyfriend, maybe there would have been a third time, we’ll never know. After that he kept treating me as if nothing had happened, greeting me as if nothing happened. I never heard that it happened to another girl, no one talked about that kind of things in front of me.
I understood that I was abused much later. My sister told me that she had several terrible episodes with a babalawo. While she was telling me about it, I told her: “But you are stupid, didn’t you realize it?” and just by saying that I realized what had happened to me with Bécquer.
About two years later I began to realize that there was a possibility that he had taken advantage of me. But I thought he didn’t need that. I questioned why a person who has a career, who knows a lot of people, who has such a big house, with his mother, would do those things.
Little by little I came to realize that he took advantage of my fragility, although it wasn’t until I left Cuba that I became aware of the seriousness of the event. He has his circle of friends who protect him. Everyone around him knows what he does, they have his back and look the other way. He tells them the stories.
Sexual abuse in Cuba
Sexual assaults suffered by women in Cuba are mostly kept out sight by the press and state institutions and political figures. Even Mariela Castro, daughter of Raúl Castro and one of the people in the nomenklatura dedicated to gender issues, LGBTI+ community and feminism, denied in 2015 that there were feminicides on the island.
In the absence of truly autonomous organizations that take up the fight for gender equality and against sexist violence, Cuban state institutions, supposedly revolutionary, but in reality conservative and led mostly by white men, turn their backs on the phenomenon, labeling it as extreme, foreign or using alleged cultural values to justify men complimenting women on the streets and other sexist expressions.
According to the platform YoSíTeCreoEnCuba, the Family Code in force in Cuba, which dates back to 1975, “does not make any reference to violence against women.”
Furthermore, its Article 26, which regulates the treatment between spouses, “is restricted to gender violence from the perspective of marital relations, leaving out other violent variants for those who are not united by formalized marriage. This body of law does not recognize the effects of psychological violence or cruel physical or psychological behavior, as do other legal systems in the region,” the members of YoSíTeCreoEnCuba told El Estornudo.
There is no section of criminal law that protects women, nor is domestic violence typified as a single crime, since “it is reached by inferring it through several criminal types, but it does not exist as a special legal right in some of the titles of the code,” adds the feminist platform.
Although crimes such as the arbitrary exercise of rights, homicide, murder, illegal abortion, injuries, abandonment of minors, the disabled and the helpless, deprivation of liberty, threats, coercion, violation of domicile, crime against the right to equality, rape, pederasty, lewd abuse, pimping and trafficking in persons, sexual abuse, incest, rape and corruption of minors are applied in the protection of women victims of gender violence, feminicide is not included in the criminal legislation, since it is considered as murder with the aggravating circumstance of kinship with the victim, which has as its main defect that “it removes from the crime of feminicide the gender component as motivation and leaves adrift a crime that is on the rise,” explains YoSíTeCe CreoEnCuba.
Cuban criminal legislation also does not include the criminal figure of harassment, much less when said harassment takes place online, which is known as cyberstalking. “Women in these cases lack the tools to guarantee their effective protection, since police units refuse to file complaints and there is total impunity,” the feminist platform points out.
However, Cuban women can resort to the figure of “sexual outrage,” which is included in Article 303 of the Penal Code, which states that “it is punishable by imprisonment for three months to one year or a fine of one hundred to three hundred quotas to the one who a) harasses another with sexual requirements.” However, the members of YoSíTeCreoEnCuba asserted that after “formalizing a complaint under this article, there is little or no possibility that the harasser will be punished.”
Although complaints of sexual aggression in Cuba are not very visible, they occur more frequently than many people think. In fact, the five women who testified they were assaulted by Fernando Bécquer also suffered other assaults throughout their lives, always with impunity for the aggressor.
Before being assaulted by the Cuban musician, Any suffered several abuses. One of the first she remembers was committed by her own uncle. According to her, it was hard for her to understand because it happened within her family environment.
“Families in Cuba have no idea what limits are. They give you a kiss and a pat on the bottom. They carry you, touch you and that’s it. With my uncle it was like that. There were things that felt very strange, and supposedly it was family affection. They were not so subtle touches. Something I grew up with. He would tell me I had a very nice body, as well as tits and buttocks. That kind of aggression is very frequent, because you grow up thinking that it’s family affection. Your uncle can say that to you and it’s nothing bad because he’s your uncle,” she now reflects.
But abuse in Cuba is not isolated, much less committed by people with alleged “mental illnesses;” it is much more common than most people think. The next incident suffered by Any, while still a teenager, was precisely with the gynecologist who was attending the women of her town, Aguacuate, in Mayabeque.
“How much respect does one not have for a doctor? What happened with him was that he was checking me, giving me a check-up, to see if everything was all right, and suddenly he started touching me. It took me a moment to differentiate between medical touching and abuse. I stood up and looked at him without saying anything, but as if to say, ‘What are you doing?’ Then he tried to kiss me on the mouth and I put on my clothes and ran to tell my mother,” she says.
Although Any told her mother and aunts what had happened, they continued to maintain a cordial relationship with the doctor, perhaps because of the authority figure he represented in the town. After this event Any’s relationship with her mother and aunts was never the same again.
“After an instance of abuse it is very difficult to be well, I feel that it is like a loss of something. It’s like an internal pain. You go on living your life and suddenly something triggers that memory. Like when I saw the picture of Bécquer on Facebook, or when I had my daughter and had to see a gynecologist for a year. In fact, I changed gynecologists three times. These are things that are there, that you have to learn to live with,” she says.
Most of the women interviewed became aware of the abuse they had suffered some time later, as their first reaction was to think they had fallen into a trap or behaved like “fools.” According to the members of YoSíTeCreoEnCuba, this is because “violence against women, children, sexual and gender dissidents is normalized in the patriarchy, so that sometimes episodes of violence are experienced but not recognized as such. People do not know that they are experiencing a situation of violence, just as others do not know that they are acting violently. There are many manifestations that happened in an underhanded and disguised way.”
“In the context of love relationships, romantic love and monogamy play an important role in this issue. Jealousy, exclusivity, dependence and control are part of that paradigm of love that each time is reconstituted in other variants but which are basically the same. Something as supposedly innocuous as saying “my wife” has a not inconsiderable burden of violence,” they add.
The Cuban specialists also pointed out that “there is a tendency to relativize the role of the aggressor and equate him with the victim, in addition to a tacit agreement that the one who receives the violence is as guilty as the one who violates. ‘She likes being hit,’ ‘What did you do that he hit you?’ are expressions that exemplify the above.”
Not only does the Cuban penal system reproduce and naturalize gender violence, but this also happens in the health system. “An example of this is the violence that takes place in gyneco-obstetrics consultations in general and that associated with childbirth in particular. It is carried out by those who, on the contrary, should be paradigms of care. In this same field would fall the re-victimization of victims in police stations and courts,” says YoSíTeCreoEnCuba.
Lilliana’s case was similar to Any’s, because during her adolescence, studying in a military academy, she suffered several aggressions by her superiors.
“During that time the vast majority of the officers who were aware of me tried to have something with me. Once I was mobilized, and I went to see my boyfriend who was in the men’s camp, and an officer took me to his office to tell me something and tried to touch me several times, while he was talking to me,” she says.
She also recalls receiving dozens of love letters from her superiors, most of them people over 50 years old, when she had not yet turned 18. To talk about these topics with her family was difficult due to the existing prejudices in Cuban society.
The academic and expert in gender issues Ailynn Torres Santana told El Estornudo that it is frequent that women victims of sexual abuse do not tell what happened to their relatives and close friends, nor do they make social or legal denunciations at the time, which is not only revealing in specific cases, but also regarding the “social, political, health and economic problem that implies the field of gender violence.”
Among the elements to be taken into account by the specialist when considering this phenomenon is self-blaming, as she states that “it is frequent that assaulted women and feminized bodies, at some point in the processing after the situation of violence, tend to blame themselves and consider that in some way they have propitiated what happened to them, that they were not active in their rejection of the situation of violence. This is part of the psychological treatment of the matter, although it is not only a psychological issue, but is obviously related to the ways in which male violence is made socially invisible.”
Torres Santana also mentions as another factor to take into account “the lack of recognition and rational elaboration of having been in a situation of violence,” as she considers that “the lack of recognition and information to acknowledge the depth and seriousness of the situation of violence is another reason why assaulted persons do not denounce what happened to them.”
Other factors mentioned by the specialist are “the way in which the situation of violence has been experienced,” which “can produce family or social stigmas for the victim (…), the fear of reprisals, threats, of being in the public eye (…), the way in which societies, people, groups, institutions and different types of social organization produce stigmas and at the same time re-victimize people who have already been victims of male violence” and “the lack of family, personal or institutional support.”
The type of violence experienced is another variable that often influences the reaction of the victims, because sometimes the victim considers that, due to “the way in which family relationships or institutional structures are organized, there will not be enough evidence of the situation of violence, either because there was no rape with penetration, or because it was more a violence of lewd abuse, among others,” explains Torres Santana.
“Then, self-blaming, re-victimization, the production of social stigmas, fear of reprisals, fear of stigma and lack of support of different types are elements that explain these behaviors and subsequent courses of situations of macho violence,” she concludes.
Silvia suffered a dozen abuses in her youth, including a rape: “My grandmother had half of her body paralyzed and was admitted to the Calixto García hospital. I was very tense because I grew up with her and she was my life. One of those days I was going to my boyfriend’s house, and on 23 between 8 and 10 two men stopped me and told me they wanted to tell me something. It was about me having a dark spirit, and that in my family there were problems and an older person could die. Now it seems obvious to me, because older people die, but at that moment I started giving information without realizing it and they used it to manipulate me,” she says.
“They told me they could help me with a ritual. I walked with them, without realizing it, to Almendares Park. I felt comfortable walking with two unknown men from 23 and 8 to the Wood of Havana. That’s when ‘the ritual’ began, which was not violent at all. Only one of the men took part, the other one left. They even had a little house built in the forest. The first man came with a small shell and told me to masturbate and collect the fluids in the shell for an offering. That was evidently to lubricate me. Then he said to me, ‘Look, see how that the godfather takes care of himself,’ and he took out a condom and began to have sex with me. All I could think about was, ‘Fuck, fuck, fuck.’ When I looked back there was the other man looking at us behind some boxes. That’s when I thought: ‘Okay, it’s happening, they are not hitting you, don’t resist, they are two men and if you rebel, you’ll die, they’ll chop you up and throw you in the river,’” she continues.
After the event, Silvia went through extremely difficult days. “When he finished, which fortunately was quite quickly, although it felt like an eternity, I picked up my things, they offered to accompany me, but I refused, and before leaving he told me his name was Lázaro and gave me his phone number written down on a piece of paper. I tried calling the number to tell him a thousand things, but it did not exist. As soon as I got home I took a shower, but I felt dirty, I felt sick, I couldn’t even take a shower because when I was in the bathroom I was afraid of the dark spirit, I relived what had just happened again and again, it was very painful,” she adds.
In addition, Silvia was harassed by a neighbor during her childhood for several years, that was the reason why she hardly went out to play with her friends outside her house. She never dared to tell her parents, although on one occasion she confronted the aggressor.
“Once, when I was seven years old, I was on a bus from Vedado to Old Havana with some friends of my mother’s and a man stood next to me with his penis out. Then I started to cry and he left. That kind of things has happened to me since I was a little girl. You end up normalizing it. In the Vedado area where I lived that was a problem,” she says.
Years later, when she was studying at the Higher Institute of Design (ISDI), one of her professors, a guy who was known for “groping” the students, even proposed her to have sex in exchange for good marks in the exams.
“If we, as women, have no protection, how can we put an end to this? Do we have to live in fear? You can’t go to the cinemas in Cuba because they are full of guys masturbating themselves. It’s not just that, it’s that afterwards you have to live with all these experiences that you never forget,” says Silvia.
Since the 1990s, but especially in the last decade, the Cuban feminist movement has demanded from the authorities the elaboration of a “Comprehensive Law against gender violence.” In November 2019, some 40 women submitted a request in this regard to the National Assembly of People’s Power, the body that performs the functions of Parliament.
Torres Santana, who was one of the promoters of the proposal, considers that for a greater visibility of male violence it is important a “formal regulation that is specifically expressed in laws against gender violence, comprehensive laws or regulations of another order.”
“When one thinks of the ‘Law against gender violence’, many times what comes to mind is that it is an instrument that is going to regulate the penalties for aggressors, that is going to complement the penal code and that is going to act in that order of things. However, when we talk about a ‘Comprehensive Law against gender violence’ it is essential to remember that it will allow working both in prevention and in the prosecution of cases and processes of gender violence. Both in specific cases and in general social problems,” she explains.
According to Torres Santana’s criteria, “a Comprehensive Law would make it possible to produce institutional linkages related to prevention, with the different ways in which you can conduct conflicts related to gender violence and, of course, also including the criminal process, although not exclusively,” since currently “within feminisms there is an important discussion about punitivism, anti-punitivism, and the ways in which the criminal process is important, but completely insufficient to think integrally about the problem of gender violence and above all to advance in its reduction and resolution.”
Although there is no single solution to the problem of gender violence and machismo, a comprehensive regulation could allow “institutional linkages to work more organically in prevention and awareness in terms of increasing politicization of the issue and at the same time explore the various formal and alternative ways, provide training processes and give them space to political discussions related to the issue,” says the expert.
“These laws would contribute to the protection of assaulted persons, would contribute to the recognition of when a situation of violence exists and therefore to the early detection of processes of violence that can have deadly consequences for the victims, would contribute to earlier filings of complaints and to the institutional articulation that ensures not only the protection of the victims, but also the ways in which each case will be processed and the social recognition of the importance of the problem,” she concludes.
In June 2021, Cuban authorities announced the approval of a “Comprehensive strategy for prevention and attention to gender violence and violence in the family setting,” but so far its content is unknown.
Claudia, 46 years old, confesses that she has not met a single woman who has not suffered some kind of abuse by men in Cuba. “Here it is common what we call ‘the shooter,’ also the men who rub against you in the buses. As a teenager I got sick, I had many psychological and behavioral conflicts and I know that they have to do with the abuse I suffered since I started in seventh grade, when I was 12 years old, daily abuse,” she says.
In her childhood, Claudia avoided buses because of the aggressions she suffered in them. She walked everywhere, so she started to be treated at the adolescent clinic, where she also went on foot. The trigger was a man who rubbed against her on a bus without her noticing, “until he finished, and he gasped and soiled my uniform skirt. That’s when I realized what was happening,” she says.
In addition, she studied at the Faculty of Arts and Letters, an area known for being frequented by the so-called “shooters.”
“Another thing that happens here are the ‘shooters’ in the movie theaters. I’ve been going to the cinema since I was young, and it’s unbearable, traumatic. They sit next to you. You don’t enjoy the movie because you’re watching whoever approaches, to see if it’s a ‘shooter,’” she says.
“An important detail is that my mother didn’t know anything about this, nor did the psychologists at the adolescent clinic. I never told my elders,” says Claudia, also illustrating the prejudices that weigh on abused women and the shame that prevents them in many cases from discussing the matter with people close to them.
The situation of Cuban society and institutions in the face of phenomena such as gender violence is currently deficient. For Torres Santana, although there is a “growing social and institutional awareness,” the normative changes that have taken place in recent years are still “insufficient.”
“In Cuba,” she adds, “there is a lack of shelters for women and their children in situations of violence within families. The figures that have been disclosed on the attention given to cases show a very notable institutional precariousness for the management of cases of violence, so I believe that social and institutional awareness has increased, but there is still a long way to go and there are still no considerable changes.”
The platform YoSíTeCreoEnCuba, which has registered at least 30 feminicides in the country during 2021, points out that there is still a lot of work to be done, and it is necessary “that the government accepts once and for all that without the participation of the civil society, real, diverse and complex as the Cuban one is, we will not begin to see steps of progress in this issue.”
*Silvia and Patricia are not the real names of the witnesses. Both preferred to keep their identities confidential.
**Fernando Bécquer was contacted by the magazine El Estornudo with the purpose of informing him about the upcoming publication of this article and to offer him the possibility of replying. Although he read the messages, he decided not to comment on the matter.
***Due to the complexity and sensitivity of the subject, the research process and the interviews with the witnesses were accompanied by El Estornudo journalist Mónica Baró Sánchez, who has experience in covering stories about gender violence and is a feminist activist.
****If you were a victim of an event similar to those described in this text, or know someone with a similar experience, please contact El Estornudo magazine at [email protected].
 Shooter in this context is slang for a man that masturbates publicly. (T. N.)