The Cuban State Does Not Have a Woman’s Name

The Cuban State Does Not Have a Woman’s Name

3 / mayo / 2024

In March 2020, I traveled to Matanzas to attend the Book Fair in that city. A couple of days after my return to Havana, after a week at the event, it was learned that the first person with COVID-19 had entered Cuba and the tremendous adventure we know would begin. But before the tragedy and epidemic that kept us on edge for so long, on the Paseo de Narvaez, right next to the San Juan River, during the presentation of her book “En tiempos de blogosfera”, I met Alina Bárbara Lopez Hernandez.

That afternoon, I went to the signing of her books at the Ediciones Matanzas stand to meet her. My curiosity was piqued by an event that took place at the Havana Book Fair, where Alina’s books that were supposed to be presented never arrived at La Cabaña —supposedly because they were missing the cover— and the author reported it on social media. At that moment, I learned, I must honestly say, about Alina’s existence and also about the online magazine La Joven Cuba.

Though in my ignorance I was not familiar with her work, Alina had an important body of work and many followers in her province and beyond. The day of the presentation, I almost didn’t get one of the copies, but I did manage to get one, and not only did I get it signed by her, but I also got a photo with her. It was the beginning of a great admiration and also a friendly relationship that we have maintained, without much interaction, but one that has endured over time.

In four years, a lot has happened, perhaps too much. We have experienced intense moments ranging from lockdown, illness, scarcity, economic restructuring, inflation, the near-total lack of medicine, the November 27, 2020 protest, the July 11, 2021 protests, the prisoners, the increase in persecution and repression, harassment of activists and dissidents, the rise in femicides, reports on social media, and many other events.

But these have also been four years of defining moments. I firmly believe that during this time, the Cuban state has finally taken off its mask and shown its true face. It is the face of someone who neither respects nor values its citizens; moreover, who doesn’t care if they get sick, if they can’t be cured, if they eat, or if they die. It is a state that has turned its back on the people it should serve and is walking in some parallel universe that only exists in its official rhetoric full of false positivity, empty hope, and ridiculous slogans.

One of the most recent episodes of harassment of the citizenry by the Cuban state through the State Security Organs and the police occurred with Alina Bárbara Lopez on April 18, 2024. I imagine many will know that she was detained in Bacunayagua for no apparent reason while she was on her way to Havana in a private car. In her posts in the following days, we have learned the details and seen photos of the injuries she sustained during her arbitrary detention. We know about the government’s malice toward the historian, who doesn’t let up in filing complaints backed by the current constitution and countering each accusation against her with irrefutable arguments, for each attempt to unbalance her.

But she is not the first nor the only woman who has suffered violence at the hands of the state in the country. A few days ago, Yamilka Laffita —known on social media as Lara Crofts— was also detained in a police station in Matanzas, where she had traveled to pick up medicine as part of her significant work in getting donations of medicine and medical supplies to those in need. The activist’s work has been crucial in many cases. More recently and prominently, we can remember the case of Amanda, the girl who underwent surgery in Spain, where she received a liver transplant thanks to the fundraising efforts on social media, primarily driven by Lara.

But before them, there were many others. We witnessed the harassment faced by Carolina Barrero, Katherine Bisquet, Camila Lobón, Luz Escobar, Tania Bruguera, María Matienzo, Marta María Ramírez, Lisbeth Moya, and many others since November 27, 2020.

These previous cases were widely publicized on social media, but before there was access to the internet on mobile devices in Cuba, there were cases of women harassed by state violence. There are the Ladies in White, Maria Elena Cruz Varela, Tania Díaz Castro…

The list is long; just search on Google, and you will find many cases with names and surnames, specific dates, and descriptions of each of the episodes experienced by the protagonists.

Perhaps less visible are the stories of the mothers of political prisoners, especially those from July 11, 2021, who not only have to endure the absence of their children but also the harassment of the Police.

A special mention should be made of the women prisoners from July 11, 56 of whom are still in prison, including Brenda Diaz, a transgender woman who is held in a men’s prison in an act of total disrespect and violence; and Lisdany Rodriguez Isaac, who is pregnant and behind bars and has been pressured to undergo an abortion, which constitutes a crime.

In Cuba, there is an organization that should protect women: the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC). I say this with nothing but laughter, as it is an association that from its inception and at every moment has been submissive to the government’s dictates. It is not a feminist organization, nor is it one that defends, protects, or fights for women’s rights; none of that.

If you want a fresh example of what I’m saying, you can search the news from recent weeks and come across the surprising headline that the FMC just awarded the International Film and Television School of San Antonio de los Baños; a place that was recently exposed by several women who reported being harassed and sexually assaulted under its roof — in several cases with the knowledge of the institution’s management, and in one case where there was a police report.

In the latter incident, the rapist even graduated from the school and continued his life as if nothing had happened until El Estornudo, through an article by journalist Mario Luis Reyes, revealed his case. Then the school made an ambiguous statement, and within two weeks, the FMC awarded it the March 8th Distinction in an act of total complicity with male violence.

Beyond known faces and names, I invite you to review the videos of the protests that have taken place in Cuba in recent years. There you will see that most of those demanding food or electricity and food —as in Santiago on March 17, 2024— are women. Mothers who have nothing to put on the table for their children, who sometimes don’t even dare send them to school because they haven’t slept due to the heat exacerbated by the lack of electricity.

Many women also lead groups defending animal rights; women who go around picking up cats and dogs, take them home, and ask for help on social media to get them medicine and save them, to raise money for expensive veterinary surgeries.

The animal rights sector is one of the most attacked by the government, which constantly pressures them not to gather or carry out their traditional pilgrimages —like the most recent one held at the Havana Cemetery on April 14, 2024, which ended with the detention of Armando Sardiñas, who was covering the event.

In a country where the state denies the rising wave of femicides and delays studying a comprehensive gender-based violence law until 2028, we cannot expect kindness for those who confront the government, demand change, or simply claim their rights.

To the female police officers, those who offend Alina Barbara Lopez, those who accuse her of disrespecting authority and tell her to be quiet, I remind you that tomorrow you may find yourselves on the street asking for food for your children, medicine for your parents, or justice for a friend killed by a femicide.

The Cuban state does not have a woman’s face, but Cuba, the homeland, the motherland, does. Cuba has the face and name of a woman[1].


[1] The Cuban regime announced this week the sentence against Mayelín Rodriguez Prado. She was sentenced to 15 years after she livestreamed anti-government protests in Nuevitas in 2022. She was sanctioned for the crime of enemy propaganda and sedition.

This article was translated into English from the original in Spanish.

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