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#MeToo Cuba: Will the movement spread to the island?

Rosa Muñoz Lima
June 27, 2019

An abuse accusation against one of the island's most prominent musicians raises questions over Cuba's lack of #MeToo. The country currently has no organized involvement in the global feminist movement.

Dianelys Alfonso, Cuban singer and composer
Image: Dianelys Alfonso

Dianelys Alfonso Cartaya defines herself as an "urban music singer, a composer and an actress" and goes by the nickname "The Goddess."

This month, during a live interview with Miami-based Cuban entertainer Alex Otaola, she was asked to respond to rumors about alleged abuse she suffered 15 years ago at the hands of her former band director, Jose Luis Cortez.

One of the most prominent musicians in Cuba, Cortez's talents have been widely celebrated and his achievements awarded by both the music community on the island and the Cuban state.

Surprised by the unexpected question, The Goddess broke down and in a tearful confession; she told her story and also admitted that she had been in a relationship with Cortez.

"I admired him for his music, but the years that I spent with the band were the most difficult of my life," she confessed.  She has accused Cortez of psychological, physical and sexual abuse.

Read more: #MeToo Mexico stirs the cultural industry

Discredited and threatened

Since then, The Goddess has received an avalanche of backlash on social media and over the phone. She has been questioned about the moment, the space and the language with which she chose to narrate her experience.

But she also received many messages of support, although they were all sent to her "in private." The artist chose to divulge those messages, in an effort to counter the great amount of discrediting she was experiencing.

"Amongst the people who witnessed it, there is total silence. People are afraid," she told DW.

The Goddess received "a threatening message" from Cortez, which she reported to authorities last week.

She did so with the help of lawyers associated with women's rights NGOs, as she was facing several hurdles from the authorities themselves.

That is when she found out that her alleged abuser had sued her for defamation. "I'm really worried because I am going up against a very important person in this country," she said.

"I'm worried they will try to cover up reality to defend Cuban culture in front of the world," she said, but she admitted she did not regret making her confession.

The case shows "the perils of processing gendered violence cases in the public space," sociologist and researcher Ailynn Torres Santana told DW. "This can cause the re-victimization of the women," she said.

Read more: Opinion: Violence against women is a universal problem

Gender violence in Cuba

The Goddess's case highlights the problem of gender violence in Cuba, Torres Santana said, "which in the recent years has been starting to come to light as a problem, one that is backed up by data and recognized by the state," she added.

The newly approved Cuban Constitution has introduced language to such effect, citing that the state "recognizes the need for and the involvement of the state with the fight against gender violence."

In Cuba's most recent National Survey on Gender Equality in 2016, some 26.7% of women aged 15 to 74 had been the victim of "some form of violence in a romantic relationship in the last 12 months."

This year, the Cuban government recognized for the first time ever, in an international report, that women were being killed as a result of gendered violence, with some 1,086 Cuban women having been killed between 2010 and 2017.

Read more: #ArewaMeToo: A hashtag against sexual abuse in Nigeria

Is #MeToo coming in Cuba?

Cuba stands apart for its lack of organized involvement in the #MeToo global feminist movement, which has swept other countries in the region such as Mexico and Argentina. On March 8, International Women's Day, no marches or strikes were seen on the island.

One of the fundamental reasons lies with Cuba's political system, which does not allow for rallies or demonstrations that are not sanctioned by the state.

Another reason is that Cuba lags behind on internet use and subsequently social media use, in comparison with other Latin American countries. Though the technology is now available for private use, Cubans still face many hurdles to getting online.

As these campaigns are born and spread through social media engagement, they are not so effective yet in Cuba. Either way, Torres disputed the idea that #MeToo movements in Latin America could be compared to that in the US.

Although inspired by the US, "there isn't a Latin American #MeToo in the same way," Torres Santana said. Instead, she noted that, as feminists in the region stress, social media hashtags associated with #MeToo mainly encompass country-specific campaigns.

What The Goddess's case shows is that in Cuba "institutions, rules and norms to prosecute gender violence are missing," she concluded.

"It should be part of the legal system, under the family law section," Torres Santana said, which would help improve statistics on the subject.

But to date, Cuba does not categorize women who die as a result gendered violence or even the concept itself in its penal code.

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