When our revolution is judged in future years, one of the matters on which we will be judged is the manner in which our society and our homeland solved the problems of women. ~ President Fidel Castro, November 30, 1974
While many individuals still romanticize the authoritarian regime in Cuba as democratic and respectful of human rights, compelling and unsavory evidence pulls the rug out from under such delusions. Actions speak louder than words, and people dying as they attempt to flee on makeshift boats say a lot more than cliched references to egalitarian ideals.
Similarly, the underhanded and murderous tactics of those in power indicate how vulnerable, paranoid, and brutal they really are — and they attest to the degree of opposition on the island. On August 31, 2013, for example, Cuban opposition activist Sara Marta Fonseca reported through Twitter that “on two occasions . . . a modern blue car with four men inside, one with a radio transmitter, tried to run me and my son over.”
#Cuba intentan atropellarme junto a mi hijo con un auto moderno d color azul en 2 ocasiones hoy, dentro 4 hombres uno con radio-transmisor
— Sara Marta Fonseca (@SaraMartaCuba) August 31, 2013
This is not the first time that this has happened, but unfortunately “experts on the role of women in Cuba” remain silent on the institutionalized and systematic violence against Cuban women while whitewashing the role of the men responsible.
Sarah Stephens, executive director of the Center for Democracy in the Americas, a Washington-based nonprofit released a report on March 4, 2013, titled “Women’s Work: Gender Equality in Cuba and the Role of Women Building Cuba’s Future,” that according to the New York Times:
Credits the top leaders of the revolution, principally Fidel and Raúl Castro, with mandating and enforcing rules and laws guaranteeing gender equality and women’s rights, which have made Cuba among the highest-ranking nations in the advancement of women.
Consider the violent evidence, as it continues to pile up, that Ms Stephens has chosen to ignore:
State security agents arrested Daisy de las Mercedes Talavera López on January 31, 2008, for placing a poster on the door of her home that read: “Freedom without exile for political prisoners and prisoners of conscience.” The dictatorship condemned her in a sham trial to a two-year prison sentence — and for those two years of punishment, she lived in a cell with no sunlight. Freed on February 26, 2010, and following several incidents, state security launched cars at Daisy to terrorize her, and they hit and killed her on January 31, 2011.
Laura Pollán, one of the founders of the Ladies in White in March of 2003 and its chief spokeswoman, earned admiration inside of Cuba and internationally. She fell suddenly ill and died within a week on October 14, 2011, in a manner that a Cuban medical doctor described as “painful, tragic, and unnecessary.” This was just days after the Ladies in White declared themselves a human rights organization dedicated to the freedom of all political prisoners. Regime agents had repeatedly assaulted Laura and injected her with unknown substances during protests in the months preceding her sudden death.
After Cuban dissidents Oswaldo Payá and Haold Cepero died in a more-than-suspicious car crash in 2012, state security agents targeted Oswaldo’s widow Ofelia Acevedo and daughter Rosa Maria Payá. Rosa Maria described how individuals were “calling at 4 a.m. . . . terrorizing my grandmother and aunt . . . chasing my mother and me while we were leaving Havana. [The latest] was a call to the home of my family that said directly, we are going to kill you. . . . Therefore, yes, I fear for the lives and physical integrity of my family, and I hold the government responsible for their physical safety and also for the safety of members of our movement and of the opposition.” Both the mother and daughter had to leave Cuba.
The Cuban government frequently detains women to prevent them from taking part in nonviolent activities. Each Sunday, for example, state security engages in nationwide actions to prevent female human rights defenders from attending Mass.
On July 21, 2013, state security agents beat Sonia Álvarez Campillo for her nonviolent dissent, and she suffered a fracture. Her daughter, Sayli Navarro, posted images and tweeted: “My mom Sonia Álvarez Campillo, shows x-rays and fractured arm by oppressors on Sunday.” A little over a month later, Ivan Hernandez Carrillo uploaded photographs on twitter allegedly showing photos of the state security agent, who had broken Sonia’s arm.
Cuban regime agents arbitrarily detained Sonia Garro, a Lady in White, for more than a year at “El Guatao” prison and are regularly sending her death threats. Amnesty International reported that Alfonso “was arrested at her home in Havana [on March 18, 2012]: around 50 police forced their way into the house and fired rubber bullets. According to her sister, Sonia Garro Alfonso, one of these bullets wounded her in the foot. The same document revealed that “Sonia Garro Alfonso was suffering a kidney problem before her arrest that may require surgery.”
Cuban enforcement agents beat and arrested Yris Perez Aguilera, Damarys Moya, Yanisbel Valido, Natividad Blanco, and Ramona Garcia in Santa Clara for marching on March 7, 2013. Yris suffered so badly that she lost consciousness and developed a cyst on the top of the spine where it meets her head from the repeated beatings. The man who assaulted Yris is Eric Francis Aquino Yera, the same official who in 2012 threatened to rape the five-year-old daughter of Damaris Moya.
Regime agents also viciously attacked Marina Montes Piñón, a 60-year-old woman and longtime opposition activist. Doing so with a blunt object on December 15, 2012, their actions resulted in three deep wounds in the skull and a hematoma in the right eye that required nearly thirty stitches.
On November 4, 2012 the daughter of a state security agent repeatedly knifed fifteen-year-old Berenice Héctor González in an attack that mutilated Berenice for verbally defending the women’s human rights movement, the Ladies in White.
The current regime in Cuba has a long history of violence against nonviolent female activists. For example, on November 19, 1991 a mob organized and sent by the dictatorship attacked Cuban poet María Elena Cruz Varela, who peacefully dissented, asking for nonviolent change. The mob tried to make her swallow the leaflets her group had distributed in Havana breaking her mouth in the process.
Cuban dissidents, Yaremis Flores and Laritza Diversent, presented their report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) that examined Cuba on July 9, 2013, during its 55th session that touched on the institutional violence against women which stated:
The brutality of the police and state security agents, including women members of these bodies, against women dissidents, is supported by the state, which exemplifies the institutionalized violence as a means to repress women opposition activists. Arbitrary detention is one of the methods to prevent them from exercising their rights to speak, associate and demonstrate. In detention centers agents use violence, sexual assault and insults as means of repression.
Castro regime agents are systematically subjecting Cuban women to death threats, arbitrary detentions, beatings, mutilations, and extrajudicial killings. Despite this there is little official reporting done by the United Nations and plenty of legitimizing of the dictatorship by this institution. This lack of oversight by the United Nations with regards to Cuba is odd considering that the 2012 Report of the Special Rapporteur on violence against women recognizes that “women human rights defenders, who challenge oppressive governments and policies, are more at risk of suffering violence and other violations.”
However, after perusing the report prepared by Sarah Stephens of the Center for Democracy in the Americas — and the distortions and omissions contained in it — the lack of support for Cuban women and the impunity with which the Castro brothers mistreat, torture, and kill them becomes clear. So too does the fact that her organization should be renamed to accurately reflect the mission that it is carrying out as the Orwellian Center for Totalitarianism in the Americas.