Voices de Matria: A Useful Cuban #MeToo Movement

Illustration: Veronica F.

By Matria (El Toque)

HAVANA TIMES – Discussion forum Voces de Matria analyzes some aspects of the joint complaint against folk singer Fernando Becquer. Alongside Ailynn Torres Santana, academic and women’s rights activist, and Monica Rivero, journalist and co-publisher of Matria, journalist Milena Recio proposed a discussion about the difference between a social and legal complaint in a case of male violence, the difference between the politicization and manipulation of the case and how this trial in Cuba could learn from experiences in other countries.

While this case has had great public impact, this isn’t the first time that Cuba is seeing an event like this. “The first public complaint was made in mid-2019, by Diosa in this case,” Ailynn said remembering the time when the Cuban singer came forward and reported abuse by Jose Luis Cortes, “El Tosco”. “The #MeToo movement also reached Cuba via Cubans living in other countries.” Torres continued.

In the case of Becquer, though, she says that “we can see continuity and a very clear fabric in terms of strategy, by the aggressor in this case. Victims giving testimony have reported concrete events that constitute a crime; not only abuse.”

Five testimonies published by El Estornudo magazine on December 8th, join countless others. Writer Elaine Vilar Madruga went public with her complaint. She announced that she had commenced legal proceedings to demand justice and said that she wouldn’t be the only one to do this. But does the complaint need to be processed in the legal environment?

This question isn’t only being asked in Cuba, but forms part of the controversy surrounding male violence in other parts of the world; “more clearly in some and with greater levels of consensus in others,” Ailynn explains, who believes this is the first time that the island is really contemplating the difference between a social and legal complaint.

“Both these things are happening right now. There have been public complaints, the five victims who have come forward for starters (and now there are dozens), and legal complaints are also being filed.” Elaine Vilar is the first woman whose complaint against Becquer was accepted, but she isn’t the first one to have tried: another victim, Massy Carram, wanted to file a complaint at the police station on Zapata and C Streets when the abuse happened, and it wasn’t accepted.

It seems that claims become legitimate when they are made using legal channels, on a common sense and institutional pronouncement level, which is something Torres believes is an “extremely serious political problem because it doesn’t take barriers in the legal/criminal system into account, which have to do with indicators that classify a crime, term of the statute of limitations and the time these events took place. It also fails to recognize personal, collective and social psychological processes; as well as the conditions in which a person, a woman, makes the complaint.”

The expert reminds us that the percentage of complaints related to abuse are very low in Cuba and in the rest of the world. “In the case of the survey about gender equality and how both genders use their time, which was carried out in Cuba in 2016, you can see that just over 3% of women who have been a victim of male violence (in intimate partner relationships only) actually file a complaint.”

Finishing her point, Torres insisted that “public complaints are legitimate and an end in itself. It doesn’t need to be preceded or followed by a legal complaint. If a victim making a complaint can and finds it healing to proceed with this complaint via a criminal proceeding, it’s there, available to them, with all of the limitations and opportunities it presents; but it isn’t the only legitimate path to justice.”

“Using established channels”

What do “established channels” mean and how do they limit or not limit a public complaint made in the space the victim decides? Ailynn asks, who believes this kind of demand is controversial and brings revictimization for a person who chooses social media or the independent press to tell their story. 

Public complaints, which can be made in these environments, “are necessary and are not conditioned by nor are a condition of a legal complaint. They are parallel processes, which eventually interlink, and we must recognize their legitimacy. People speaking from the women’s rights world and from civil society spaces are not necessarily justice workers,” Ailynn explains.

Monica Rivero said that people are also questioning the fact that the women filing complaints have gone to the place where this abuse allegedly took place, out of their own free will; there wasn’t any physical resistance, and they weren’t coerced or threatened. There are people who believe that there is a certain degree of consent in the mere fact that these women have gone somewhere; more so if they are going back for the second time, such is the case for one of the victims. How do you report sexual abuse, gender-based violence and not cross the fragile line of infantilizing women or representing them as subjects without an opinion or control of their own free will? By placing our attention on the aggressor.

“When we talk about male violence, we aren’t talking about individual cases and we aren’t talking about an individual’s capacity to react to this,” Ailynn adds, before reminding us that consent can end at any moment. “Just because a woman has gone to the aggressor’s house with her own two feet doesn’t mean to say that she didn’t say no later. [There is also] a lack of awareness that she is being a victim. What does being abused mean and what does an unequal relationship mean, that results in subordination and is unwanted?” The answer to these questions partially explains why so many complaints are not made and how women react to this abuse, Torres says.

“The question is where are we going to place our focus: on what the victim did or didn’t do, when she did it, or if she said no at the beginning or at the end? Or are we going to focus on what the aggressor did instead?

“If you were dressed like this or that, or if you went there on your own two feet or you didn’t realize… you are a “bad victim” and you don’t deserve public nor institutional attention. Although, why didn’t she say no at the beginning?” “Why are some people able to leave the situation and others now?” are logical questions, and we have to ask ourselves why we are asking this and not why we become filled with doubt and resentment that the “no” hasn’t been more or less aubile, that the “no” came at the beginning or end, that somebody realizes that they were a victim of abuse only after it happens, or years later.  Why do we ask ourselves less questions about what abuse means as a complex plot of a society that authorizes and tolerates it, a subject that strategically uses religion and its social and symbolic capital, and the persistence of this abuse that clearly reveals total malice aforethought?”

“The political question is how society produces scenarios where women can experience unwanted situations, sometimes without even realizing that this is violence at the time,” she concluded.

Milena Recio spoke about how these experiences signify social learning, a learning opportunity in the public sphere, with a concept that comes into play, and we begin to discuss these issues in a more comprehensive way. “We operate with common sense that, sometimes, makes us ask the wrong questions, not focus on the fairer, more appropriate points; that makes us somewhat complicit with this abominable behavior.” Which experiences in the US, Europe, Latin America, up until today, can we use in Cuba in similar cases?

“The #MeToo movement is an open process. It isn’t something that has ended, and we’ve managed to systematize everything,” Ailynn says. “When the #MeToo movement launched in the US, it had a lot of limitations for Latin America. One of the problems is that it amplifies testimony from well-known celebrities or people who have great presence in the public space: actresses, producers, people from the Art world. In many places in Latin Amercia, the #MeToo movement didn’t have a great deal of impact because the politicization of male violence came from other places.”

Attacks that may happen on street-corners, next to your home or by unknown people, even when they have so many followers on social media. Ailynn believes that this is “one of the lessons that we need to bear in mind when it is the right time to cast a spotlight on these cases. We have to make the #MeToo movement accessible to everyone, to every voice, to every aggressor and all of the women who have been attacked.”

Complaints and complaints

Looking at experiences in recent years, complaints normally focus on a certain kind of public figure, with greater social reach; while violence in other social environments goes unseen or receives a lot less attention.  There have also been cases of people with a public presence, and it has been very uneasy for the public to identify and flag them. Monica recalled the case of Diego Maradona, “a man adored by millions of people for many, many years, who is a part of his country’s cultural DNA, and in other countries too, where affection, emotions are linked to family stories.”

Complaints against beloved figures are normally unsettling even for activists. “The Maradona case paints this picture very well; it was the first time we had a phenomenon before us that shows us who the abusers are, who the violent men are and the question: in terms of cancel culture, are we willing, as a society, to apply the same moral and ethical standards regardless of who the person is?

Ailynn says that, in reality, “we don’t always apply the same moral, social or political standards for one kind of aggressor or another; while a certain standard is applied to feminisms and they have to be clear and resolute with this, and with a level of coherence that isn’t asked of other actors.” Society is full of “conflicts, controversies, contradictions, issues that aren’t properly resolved in any field; but feminisms and the fight against violence require a kind of absolute coherence, without any blemishes, aseptic almost.”

Torres picks up on the Maradona case again: “it has proven that there are contradictions that haven’t been resolved even within feminisms, which need to process this in the crossover between gender-related issues and class-related issues, racial issues, political issues, etc. These are questions that need to be answered, and they need to be answered without necessarily rejecting outright any stance, regardless of whether we agree with this stance or not. It’s important, both from a political and sociological standpoint, to look at the battleground and see how it evolves. This isn’t playing the matter down; it’s just taking part in the politics.

“We can see how certain strategies become more concrete, more acceptable within society. This entire process is being experienced in modern-day societies where going against the current is what’s cool, desired, attractive. We are talking about a problem that forms part of a social fabric that exceeds it, transcends it and conditions it to some extent. Politically incorrect language has become what’s right.”

A useful Cuban #MeToo movement

Ailynn Torres believes that today “we have to weave a fabric so that this isn’t a volatile or intermittent issue, that we don’t talk about this one time when what happens to the aggressor is settled and then we forget about it until the next time it happens. We are in danger of this happening, but the risk is less every day that passes.”

Torres remembers how, as a result of Diosa’s complaint in 2019, the YoSiTeCreo platform was created, “which has become institutionalized via civil society and has accompanied 122 cases of violence up until the present. It would seem like this was a one-off case, but it wasn’t. As a result of this complaint, a civil society space was created that led to a space for following or presenting a request for a comprehensive law against violence or greater institutional attention for violence-related issues both in the media and outside of it, to the publication of a comprehensive strategy against violence a few days ago. This wasn’t sporadic: it had the ability to establish itself. We have to make sure that complaints continue to establish themselves.”

Regarding the present case, she said that “it’s necessary to accompany and provide psychological, legal, individual and group support to direct victims of this long process of piled up attacks perpetrated by Fernando Becquer, and focus on their healing process, which has nothing to do with the criminal channel, although it may have in some cases. Those of us who haven’t been direct victims of Becquer and this case in particular have to systematize this experience and give it greater scope beyond this case, which gives other people confidence to make potential complaints, for the issue to become more and more politicized in every available channel, established or not, and to conceive ways to accompany these victims. Right now, there are lots of people accompanying the large number of victims that continue to come forward and make complaints.”

Politicizing vs. manipulating

This has been one of the points that has been discussed the most. Torres speaks about the need to politicize events, to transform them into a source of political creation, which is very different to ideological order or political manipulation as a means to create a face-off.

“When I talk about politicizing the case, I’m talking about casting a light on the power relationships that articulate it. Where is the power and how is it being exercised? The aggressor’s power over his victims, society’s power and its tolerance or authorization of certain kinds of violence; that is to say, identifying how power relationships are created, both in their genesis and processing. How is this manipulated (and now I am talking about ideologization) by different political actors for their agendas? Can it be prevented? It hasn’t been prevented in other scenarios. It won’t be prevented in Cuba, where this matter is highly politicized right now, either. We have to bear in mind the fact that this case is being manipulated, it will continue to be manipulated and this cannot nor should it stop our accompaniment, which is essential right now.”

Read more from Cuba here on Havana Times.