HAVANA TIMES — A few days ago, I spoke to Andres, a neighbor from the Perico municipality in Matanzas province, who told me that the fire which took place on March 24th on Bernal Street, between Gonzalez and Infesta streets, was the result of a “jealousy attack”. Andres didn’t live in the tenement block that was burned down, but the heat made him jump out of bed when the electricity was cut and he cut straight “to the gossip”.
“They had ended their relationship three months ago, three months, and he had gone out with other women.” Andres doesn’t understand the pyromaniac’s obsession: “but ever since he saw her with another man on the street, he went crazy. One day he hit her and a friend who was with her and stood in the way to try and protect her. He threatened her with fire.” The thing is that “one night, he sneaked into her room and she wasn’t there so he grabbed her clothes and burnt them.” That’s how the fire started.
It didn’t take very long for the rundown homes to catch fire, smoke began to come out between the boards and that’s when a neighbor saw it and sounded the alarm. From an old 90-year-old woman to small children, everyone had to make a run for it at 3 AM in the early morning. A drunk man needed help because he didn’t understand what was going on.
Seven homes were destroyed and another two received less serious damage. Many people could have been injured or killed. The man ran away and was caught in Pinar del Rio, a month later. The new houses have already been built, they only need a few things added to them, and victims have been given sheets, Russian washing machines, etc. At least it’s something. However, Andres doesn’t understand why: “the government representative who came to inaugurate the new homes said that they were investigating, that they didn’t know the motive behind the fire, when everyone knows exactly what happened.”
Ay Andres, the mobile wasn’t a “jealousy attack”, the fire was the result of machista violence and this in itself is the result of a patriarchal culture which incites young men to act as if women’s bodies were their property. Don’t be surprised, it’s hard for any government official to recognize that it was an attempt to commit femicide, which didn’t happen luckily, but if he had managed to do this, they still wouldn’t use that word.
Maybe people would have blamed her for going out with someone else, or they would have justified his actions because he really was in love. If anything, this would just increase some cold statistic under the subheading “Aggressions”, in the Public Health Annual Statistical Report. In our country, gender-related crime rates aren’t made public knowledge just like punishments for abusers aren’t either, who the majority of the time only need to pay ridiculously low fines or are accused of charges which aren’t gender-specific. Neither our Criminal Code nor Family Code define this kind of violence as a crime.
By the way, during the month it took to catch the ex-boyfriend, the girl must have felt really unsafe because we don’t have shelters either, where victims or harassed people can go to seek protection. Ever since 1990, Family Guidance Centers and Women’s Shelters are an emotional and therapeutic guide for those who go to them, but there aren’t any safe houses where victims can move to and be far away, without their abuser finding them.
The Perico fire has already gone down in history books, as has the murder of Taimara Gomez Macías (29), from Cardenas in the Matanzas province in late 2016, or the murder of Leidy Maura Pacheco (18), in Cienfuegos, and the mirder of Misleydis Gonzales García (47), in Ciego de Ávila – both of which took place in 2017-, to name a few. We always find out about these events on independent media platforms or from comments that go around via “radio bemba” (gossip).
Right now, a week ago, another horrible crime took place in Cienfuegos city. A young man stabbed his pregnant ex-wife and her mother; they both died as a result of their injuries. The murderer will clearly be accused of multiple homicide, premeditation and malice aforethought, etc. (men and women are seen as equals in the eyes of the law) without specifying that his status as an ex-partner (and possessive machista) influenced his decision to kill the girl, that is to say, without mentioning the real motive. If we don’t have figures for the number of gender-related homocides, how can we recognize the problem, make it ours and contemplate it? Now, it was Daylin Najarro Cause (36) and her mother Tomasa Cause Fabat (64), but tomorrow it could be any of us women.
Even though some campaigns were made against violence towards women and girls, and in spite of laws which facilitate women’s lives, the Cuban State doesn’t have a policy to tackle this matter in all of its aspects. On the contrary, the problem hasn’t been recognized as critical or on the rise. Women follow orders and the will of the men who govern this country. We are the majority in the National Assembly now but we don’t have any real capacity to bring about change. We lament these deaths, yet, they are the result of a long life experience mired in the dynamics of machismo.
I hope I’m wrong and our lawmakers pay attention to this issue. We need transparent statistics, which are taken seriously and for the number of victims and punishments given to their attackers to be disclosed, so that nobody is left in the dark. We need a specific legal framework which punishes abusers and murderers of women; a policy with a stress on education and on deconstructing myths in the collective imagination which are now taken as dogma.