The Peddlers of Illusions and the Orphans of Hope

One of the most important political figures of the twentieth century in Cuba is more known for uttering the phrase: “In Cuba women are in charge”, than for his achievement as the first president. However, he said this a whopping 72 years ago. And at least that’s the way it should be, since Cuban women make up half of the country’s population and they are expected to be responsible for the development of the other half.

The Cuban Revolution’s track record on behalf of women is commendable and, at the same time, controversial. Let’s take a look at today’s statistics: Cuban women constitute 66% of the country’s professionals and technicians, occupy 49% of the seats in parliament, govern 10 of the 15 provinces, along with 66 of the 169 municipalities, they are almost half of the members of the Council of State, several of them are ministers and two are vice-presidents of the country. Impressive.

However, despite the performance described above, which is enough to meet the goals of the IV World Conference on Women (Beijing, 1995) on education, employment, sexual and reproductive rights, as well as legal regulations focused on differential pay and other resolutions, women in Cuba are not in charge. This is worth clarifying, there is no reference being made here to an ahistorical and outdated matriarchy, but to a truly inclusive and participative society that promotes gender equality in all areas.

Nonardo Perea by Irina Echarry
Nonardo Perea by Irina Echarry

On the one hand, it is true that the advancement of women is an extraordinary social achievement. On the other hand, there are also essential things that still hang above them, in the domestic sphere, in the daily life of the neighborhood, in their daily efforts to bring harmony to the family, and, above all, in the participation in the real decision-making that could change the situation of the country. Cuban women continue assuming the same culturally assigned gender roles that have kept them as the slaves of men and power as in the past.

It is true that 60 years are not enough to eradicate the patterns of influence of a patriarchal culture that generate subjectivity which manifests itself in discriminatory conceptions towards women. However, the problem of discrimination in Cuba is very complex and multifaceted, so any appropriate treatment of it goes beyond the implementation of short-term government policies or the rhetoric of propaganda. They are structural in nature, that is, they relate directly to the dysfunctions of a model of socio-economic and political development.

Over the last six decades of building socialism, the economic and political power in Cuba has continued to be held by men. And for this to be so, the establishment is supported by an ideological violence that is sustained by the military gerontocracy of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) that merges historical feats with political legitimacy as the only way to reach real power. As a result, women lose.

In the same way this military gerontocracy over the last 25 years has demonstrated not only its way of doing politics but also a singular interpretation of the philosophy that sustains it.  They have applied this with a supreme sense of voluntarism towards governmental policies that led to the fragmentation of Cuban society before the advance of old and new problems that undermine its very basis, endangering the very essence of the Nation. All of this can be understood by looking at the: economic crises and growing poverty in which inflation has a damaging impact on the meager and demoralizing salaries, political corruption, drug addiction, prostitution, the crisis of values and enshrining of moral double standards, the increase of machismo and intrafamily violence which result in femicides. As a result, women lose.

They also lose, when in outright violation of the most basic human rights, the Cuban State and Government repress in every possible way the increasingly numerous critical and dissident voices that are calling for efficient solutions to their urgent and legitimate claims based on gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, cultural preferences and political position that transcend the pathetic, stagnant, reactionary and phantasmagorical Federation of Cuban Women, an organization of the official civil society that, on behalf of the PCC, stands as the only space for bringing together Cuban women over 14 years of age. This is the height of social abnormality.

However, as prisoners of the logic of survival, the PCC pretends that it is doing something substantive in relation to true gender equality in all areas. What happens is an effort made through some highly visible small investments that enable the easy use of positive propaganda about the benefits of the system. By doing this, most people get the impression that they have not been forgotten, which calms them down and makes it easier for them to accept the system’s explanations and apologies. Yet, the socioeconomic model has not changed. Because they are based on a false premise, their promises never become more than the illusions being sold to the female orphans of hope.

As long as the current decrepit socio-economic and political system remains in Cuba, women will not be in charge. Hence, Juana ‘the Cuban,’ Natacha ‘the engineer who sells rum and other things’ and Yumisisleidys ‘the female fighter in hotels and discos,’ my female neighbors and yours, the millions of female compatriots confronted by the harshness of life and the lack of hope in real change,  all these women, are unable to care about how many women there are in a Parliament which does not legislate (and even less so on behalf of women) or how many unknown female vice presidents, that specialize in receiving letters of credence from the new ambassadors, are appointed.

The future does not exist. In historical moments of high degree of uncertainty, like the current one in Cuba, the best way to influence the future is to invent it. The real and sustainable empowerment of Cuban women will depend mainly on the ability of the citizens to imagine and build it collectively, and to decide and act committed to this shared vision. But this effort must take place within the framework of “rules” that are absolutely different from the current system of ideas and the institutional framework that has made us all helpless and brought misery to the homeland.