Cuba: Getting a Violent Man Out of Your Life

Maria Matienzo Puerto

Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 8 — It’s no secret to anyone. Whenever I hear conversations of people in the street, I’ll stop if I have to, not to miss any of the details (if the conversation merits it). Yes, I’m a gossip.

At first I would engage in this though I felt a little uncomfortable. Now, as you can read, I even comment about my gossiping. In other words, if at one time I had a small problem with this bad habit of mine, I’ve now gotten over it completely.

Of course, I don’t always hear nice things, and sometimes I find out things that I would have preferred to never know.

The other day, for example, I learned that here in Cuba there’s no law to restrict people who are obsessed with someone else.

Let me explain.

If Joe Blow assaults Ms. So-and-so, and she wants to distance herself from him legally, there’s no way of doing so. That’s what I heard on the street, and it was later confirmed by a lawyer friend of mine.

I’ll continue calling her So-and-so because she was a woman at the bus stop and the guy, Joe Blow, because he wasn’t close by and I also don’t know him.

I saw So-and so leaving a law office (which is just across from the bus stop) here in the Alamar neighborhood. She came over to the stop and starting saying to a friend: “Just think. What can I do now? He’s just been released and he’s going around looking for me. At the police station, they sent me here. But now that I’m here, there’re telling me they can’t do anything.”

Though basically she didn’t say anything, I was struck by the subject and listened.

“Yeah, the police told me that he had already served his time; so now he wants me to be punished too,” she added.

With that, I couldn’t take anymore. Between her anguish-strained voice and my own curiosity, I couldn’t help but to turn and look at her.

She was burned, badly burned. The scars reached all the way to her face.

I couldn’t bear thinking about what she was going through, but I concluded that it was terror and the trauma of having been burned.

Joe Blow was now back on the street after serving…how much time? Four years for good behavior?

I don’t know So-and-so, but I saw her sitting there essentially alone, at a bus stop but on her way down a dead end street.

What can she do? Kill him and then be convicted as a criminal? Or wait to be killed?

Who’s responsible then for exorcising the devil from the lives of battered women?

Although there is no reporting on such crimes, there are thousands of these cases in Cuba. The morgues and hospitals are full of stories like those of So-and-so. But that’s another law that has been put on the back burner.

Maria Matienzo

Maria Matienzo Puerto: I dreamed once that I was a butterfly who had come from Africa and discovered that I had been alive for thirty years. From that time on, I constructed my world while I was sleeping: I was born in a magic city like Havana; I dedicated myself to journalism; I wrote and edited books for children; I met to discuss art with wonderful people; I fell in love with a woman. Of course, there are certain points of coincidence with the reality of my waking life and it’s that I prefer the silence of reading and the pleasure of a good movie.

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3 thoughts on “Cuba: Getting a Violent Man Out of Your Life

  • Maria,

    Many things race through my mind when I read or hear a story like this. Woven among my thoughts are always feelings of sadness, anger and frustration. Progress has been made but there is still too much abuse in the world. I have worked at a shelter for abused women and their children for almost 20 years; I know these stories all too well.

    Here in Canada, we have laws that can help protect women from abusers but it is not enough. Some of these laws lack ” teeth” – it is hard for the police and justice system to enforce such laws. If a man really wants to hurt a woman, he will ignore the piece of paper that says he must stay away from her. Laws are not the only thing that is needed.

    The most important thing is to change societal attitudes. Writing about the pervasive global problem of woman abuse is a good step – thank you for doing so! Talking about it is important too. This must not be considered a private, “domestic” issue. Also, it is vital that both women and men are involved in the conversation, and in ending violence and abuse – just as many heterosexuals are supportive of non-heterosexuals in their struggle for acceptance and rights.

    One small way to help, when talking about this issue, is to be clear that it is not really “domestic abuse.” Using a term without a specific gender implies that both sexes are being abused equally in the home. That is not the case. International statistics demonstrate unequivocally that women are much, much more likely to be the victims of abuse and violence; children are second. Although men can be victims of abuse, this is a lot less common, particularly when it comes to violence. I would encourage people to refer to this as “woman abuse” because that is a more accurate reflection of what is occurring.

    Besides improving legislation and increasing public awareness, the single most important thing to do is to figure out ways to help the women in these difficult, frightening and sometimes life-threatening situations. That is no easy task. Start by letting the woman know that you believe her and will do what you can to help. Would it be possible to create a support team of people who could take turns accompanying her? Or, maybe someone could offer her a safe place to stay, temporarily. Showing solidarity as a community of friends and neighbors is vital. People must work together to make abuse and violence socially unacceptable.

    About 30 years ago, in my community and in many other places in Canada and the U.S., people worked together to establish shelters for abused women. It was a true grass-roots effort that did not always have government support. People found creative ways to help women and children have safer lives. Cubans are some of the most creative, resourceful people I have ever met. By working together you will be able to accomplish whatever you put your minds to!

    I hope my comments are helpful. Thank you again, Maria, for helping to raise awareness of this issue.


    PS: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful people can make a difference; in fact, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Meade

  • Maria Matienzo Puerto,

    I hope you get lots of supportive responses. Such violence exists in all societies, and in many there are women centered laws and programs to both protect women and begin to diminish such violence. Definitely, it should be talked about and publicly opposed in all countries.

    I see that there was a similar article in Havana Times titled “Tackling Gender Violence in Cuba” by Patricia Grogg on May 25, 2009 and also “Visualizing Cuba’s Domestic Violence” by Dixie Edith on June 9th, 2009. Also, there are governmental reports that indicate various groups have been working on this major problem, including “the National Centre for Sex Eduction (Centro Nacional de Educación Sexual, CENESEX)” which has with other government-run organizations “organized a major campaign[s] to help stop violence against women (IPS 25 Nov. 2006).

    A more recent report stated “Gender Equality and the Role of Women in Cuban Society
    As part of the American Association of University Women’s International Series on Culture and Gender Roles, a delegation of 48 AAUW members and staff traveled to Cuba in fall 2010 for six days of research, dialogue, cultural events, and educational experiences. From October 30 to November 4, the group visited sites around Havana and met with women leaders in education, the arts, politics, and law, including Mariela Castro Espin, the daughter of President Raul Castro.”

    My hope is that you find others to work with. Strength and support in numbers!

  • It is very important that the citizens of Cuba work hard at changing laws. People must be protected from violence. There is a big problem with, what we call, domestic violence in the US.

    Many years ago, I got involved with a man. I was very innocent and didn’t understand the danger I was getting into. I was living at my father’s house in New Jersey, having just returned from a trip to Cuba. I received a phone call from a man I met in a park who I gave my telephone number to when he asked for it. I didn’t see the harm in that. He asked me to visit him, and I did. He lived in Manhattan. I liked him and I told him we could have a friendship with sex, but that I would be leaving the country again soon, after my sister was married, which was to happen a month later. Per his request, I lived with him. He told me he was very sick and dying. He didn’t want me to leave him and he tried to manipulate me to stay, hid my passport and then, when I didn’t respond to his manipulations, he pulled a knife on me and then wouldn’t let me out of his sight. As soon as a police man was near us in a public area, I walked up to the police man and told him, “I need to separate from this man and I need your help.” The man tried to manipulate the police man, in a Jeffrey Dahmer sort of way, and I looked at the police man and repeated what I said before, very calmly. The police man told the man to leave and I went to a domestic violence shelter that I could not tolerate because they were blaming me for being attracted to him. Fortunately, I knew better. I left the shelter and took a bus to Mexico. The man terrorized my friends and family, and finally, I believe out of a threat of violence from one of my friends, he stopped. That was a close call and I was very lucky. We must always be very careful about who we get involved with. Best to seek advice from someone (a Santero) who can see the truth about people before getting involved with someone.

    Thanks you for writing about this, Maria.

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