Military Service in Cuba: Not for Women or Men

Irina Echarry

Mujeres en el Servicio Militar cubana

HAVANA TIMES — Naomi can never sit still for a second: she crosses the street from one side to the next, she makes up adventures with her friends, she wriggles around to the beat of her neighbor’s music, she has been wearing make-up for two years now, she is a natural born leader who brings other kids from around the block together.

Her mother, a second grade teacher, said to me: I can’t wait for her to grow up and see if she joins the Service and then be reformed by military life, she needs a firm hand…”. Just listening to this sentence makes my stomach become a bundle of knots, imagining Naomi with the seriousness of an olive-green uniform…

It seems incredible, but today, there are still people who encourage their children to join the army. And the government does this too. In early March, the Ministry of Further Education announced the different options this year for students to enter Cuban universities.  The “advantage” for girls who choose Voluntary Military Service (obligatory for boys) was added to the list of well-known options: it would only be for a year, they would have the right to study university degrees during the day, and they will be given priority for the degree they want to study. All they need to do is pass their entrance exams, without having to worry about the hierarchy.

Logically, the announcement had repercussions in the media, both official as well as independent media. The work of women in the Armed Forces (FAR) was highlighted in some of them, the benefits they receive when they join its ranks and the honor they represent. On other media platforms, the real reason behind this measure was speculated: is it to prevent young girls entering prostitution?

Among the options that the Women and Family Guidance Center offers to the youngest of girls who have left school at an early age for whatever reason, is the Voluntary Military Service. If you haven’t managed to finish your pre-university (high school) course, during this year of Military Service, you will receive classes to bring you up to and pass 12th grade, and you can go straight to university afterwards.

I am against armies. I say this and I don’t even have an answer for questions like: and what do we do if there is a war, do we let them invade us without defending ourselves? Or for these arguments: Armies not only serve defense purposes, they also prevent wars and, well-intentioned, can control world chaos.

In the current state of things, I understand that even in a country with so many shortages, a lot of people prefer to continue to divert a large sum of money to keep the army going. People around me don’t even stop to think about it, it’s something that ever since we’ve come into this world, we’ve learned to be something natural.

Ok, it exists and a lot of people approve of it. But, what does cause rejection, even though it is also seen as something that has to happen, is compulsory Military Service for men. There are few mothers who really want this for their sons. Some because they consider them too young still to separate themselves, others see handing guns to teenagers as dangerous, and a lot of other people believe it is a waste of time in their child’s professional formation.

Many young men also reject this. They add to their mothers reasons the strictness of military life which they don’t identify will at all, their superior’s abuse and humiliation if you are considered “weak” in one way or another. Even so, few question the permanence of this compulsory service law. Every year, when called upon to join the Service, sadness takes over thousands of Cuban families.

Several of my friends pretended to be “crazy” to receive a military pardon, and they were successful.  The crazy ones are those who don’t do anything [to get out], one of them said to me.

Some time ago, somebody proposed I fight for including women in this compulsory Service, as a display of my feminist activism. Their reasoning was backed up by something like this: if I really want equality for men and women, it has to be in every possible field.

The term “equality” is abused quite often; but we continue on in this vein. Yes, it’s true, I want this equality, but it’s clear that in the military men aren’t treated well, wouldn’t it be better to advocate for getting rid of compulsory Military Service for men and that it be voluntary? That is to say, that men’s situation in this case equals that of our own.

In the military, young men reinforce machista attitudes; they reinforce hierarchies, as they become more involved in the command and control chain, responding to the tradition of respecting external authorities, and they distance themselves from what they really are. They are trained to killl and many of them suffer because they are unable to leave this situation of overcrowding and gregariousness. A large number of young men fall into deep depression and some even try to take their lives while in the Service.

I don’t want anything like this for Naomi or any other girl. I don’t want any woman to be abused. The fight needs to be so that no man is abused neither.

3 thoughts on “Military Service in Cuba: Not for Women or Men

  • It is because of the discipline taught in the army and it is because of the compulsory military training for young people why the crime rate is so low in Cuba. The H.T. Carried an article earlier in the year stating that Tourists from the USA were boasting that they feel safer in Cuba than in the USA. Why is it that, in a Capitalist country, the crime rate is so astronomically high, whilst it is so low in a Socialist country? Why is the prison population in the USA, the so-called richest country on the Planet, far greater than the population of Cuba’s Eleven Million?

    The surprising thing about DISCIPLINE is that, when you board an Airline to travel anywhere, you have to be disciplined; you cannot leave the economy class and walk into the First class area and demand that kind of service. When the Fasten Your seat belt lights come on, every body obeys: The in-disciplined youngsters in the USA, when they travel to the Middle Eastern Countries where the DISCIPLINE IS HIGHLY STRICT, they have to conform or else they suffer the consequences. When the in-disciplined young men become residents in prison, the rules are severely strict; they either obey or they are locked down in isolation. Discipline is like the Battery of a motor vehicle.

    Regardless of how expensive that vehicle is, it cannot move unless it is connected to the Battery. Cuba is not the only country in the world where there is compulsory military training for its young people, H.T.? So, why are you making out Cuba to be a pariah? You must cease from publishing these misleading articles. In the USA Black people especially join the army or any other branch of the military as a means of surviving, not that they necessarily like it, but because they cannot find jobs as a civilian. All young people in this modern day and age, in any country on the Planet, should be privy to some form of military training, for it instills DISCIPLINE in them and it transform them into more worthwhile, respectable, productive and industrious citizens!

  • Nowadays, most countries (USA and France, for example) have adopted the principle of a professional army recruited from amongst volunteers and have abandoned the principle of compulsory military service.

    But I imagine that compulsory military service for men is part of a comprehensive strategy to “discipline” the population under an authoritarian regime.

  • you are indeed a gifted writer!wonderfull insight into a young person’s life in filled me with sadness!!this is one of your best stories that i have so far read..

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