Another Victim of Gender Violence in Cuba: When will it Stop?

Irina Echarry

Marti and Aranguren streets in Regla, Havana. Photo: Miguel Sanchez

HAVANA TIMES – It’s September; the streets of Regla (across the bay from Old Havana) are buzzing again with the beginning of the school year. Near the dock entrance, people walk in haste, many of them remember Jennifer, “the girl who was killed”. She was only 23 years old and she had lots of plans for her future.

Jennifer had just finished university in the last academic year (just two months ago) and her father, who lives “abroad”, came for her graduation. Everything seemed to be going well.

When she got home after going out with her cousin and his girlfriend, Jennifer had no idea what was lying in wait for her. Her grandfather didn’t think her ex-boyfriend going in or coming out of her bedroom strange in any way, smoking as he always did; the boy had been a part of family life in that home up until very recently.

The town squirmed with the news. It was midday and there was a blackout, it was unbearably hot in the house and her family found it strange that the girl didn’t come out of her room. When they managed to get into the room, they found her strangled to death.

This story didn’t make its way into government-controlled media, not even independent media covered it; the authorities don’t talk about her and neighbors are still talking about what they remember about that day, about that family, about that girl.

Speculation and rumors have meant that this story has traveled like Chinese whispers, spinning out a movie with many different versions. This is how we learned that he put cotton wool in her mouth to suffocate her, that he did it with a belt, that the ex-boyfriend didn’t agree with the break-up, that she was thinking about leaving the country and that he went mad, or that he hung himself after committing the awful crime.

This event took place on Saturday July 14th and it isn’t an isolated case, we learn about similar events every now and again, but as these stories aren’t published in Cuba, we can’t count them or analyze them. 

In 2017, the government broke its silence about this subject and on September 5th, its newspaper in Cienfuegos published an article about the murder of Leydi Maura Pacheco; then it covered the trial and reported the sentence.

Photo: Juan Suarez

Last month, it was Escambray newspaper’s turn, from Sancti Spiritus, and it published an article about the murder of Yulismeidys Maria Loyola Fernandez, which took place in the early morning of August 22nd on the outskirts of the provincial capital. This should become common practice. It isn’t sensationalism or bedroom gossip, it’s a question of making a problem that is growing exponentially public knowledge.

In the survey about gender equality which was carried out in 2016 on a sample size of over 19,000 women and men aged between 15 and 74 years old, across the country, 81.4% of the women interviewed admitted that violence against women does exist. A total of 9.971 women said that they had experienced some form of violence in the last 12 months prior to the survey, predominantly psychological violence, but also physical, sexual and financial. Meanwhile, 39.6% of the women surveyed said that they had suffered some kind of violence at the hands of their partner at “some point in their life”, which included those who had said they had suffered abuse in the previous year.

And, astonishingly, 77.6% of men surveyed and 80.1% of women believed that violence against women was justified if she had been unfaithful or if she didn’t do the household chores.

These are just preliminary results, and even though it was announced that the final results would be published at the beginning of this year, we still can’t consult the exact figures anywhere and we are now well into September.

When a male partner or ex-partner kills a woman, we aren’t just talking about a criminal or somebody “who went mad because of love”, but someone who “reprehends” women out of machismo or misogyny. These men, immersed in power relationships that are completely unbalanced, use their strength to dominate women and their social privilege to belittle them, guided by the conviction that a woman’s body belongs to them.

Generally-speaking, this situation goes on for a while before it ends in death. This is why femicide is just one aspect of the problem, the most shocking, but it doesn’t come from nowhere, it is firmly rooted in machista ideology which we pass down from generation to generation throughout our lives.

In order to break the vicious cycle we find ourselves in and to make sure that there aren’t any other Jennifers in the country, we need to recognize the problem, accept it and put it on the table. Statistics about victims and punishments for murderers not only need to be published, but we have to create a debate, clarify concepts, create public policies in favor of potential victims, revise our traditions in depth so as to wipe out ideas of possession, superiority and tolerance of violence from our social imagination.


Note:  Figures from the survery were taken from IPS and from Periódico 26