When will Cuba pass a law against domestic violence?
The Chinese did it first. On Tuesday a law enters into force that classifies domestic violence as a crime, not a private or family matter.
In response to the demands of Chinese feminists both physical and psychological violence were included, as were common law, not just registered marriages.
While it is true that same-sex couples also need to be included, there is now a starting point from which to work to expand and enhance the legal mechanisms combating this social problem.
When will Cuba do the same thing?
Article 41 of the Cuban Constitution provides for the equality of all citizens, while Articles 42 and 44 prohibit any kind of discrimination, and stipulate that all citizens enjoy equal rights.
The Penal Code, however, makes no specific reference to domestic violence and there is a general perception among the Cuban authorities that this law is not needed in the country, that in Cuba domestic violence is not a problem.
"The Constitution establishes one thing, but it cannot be enforced without a specific legal mechanism," explains Leandro, a doctor. "We need specific laws against discrimination, covering all the types of discrimination we have in Cuba, which are several.”
In 2013, the UN Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) pointed out to Cuban authorities multiple deficiencies in the country: the lack of legislation governing cases of violence against women, shelters for women who are victims of violence, protection for victims, and punishment for perpetrators.
In response to report submitted by the Cuban group that year, the CEDAW was concerned that Cuban laws did not include a definition of discrimination, and urged the delegation to adopt and include it in the Constitution and in the relevant national legislation.
A private problem
In the view of Laritza Diversent, an attorney at the Cubalex Centre for Legal Information, Cuban laws, rather than punishing cases of violence against women, actually promote them.
"First, Cuba has not recognized gender-based violence as something that threatens equality and human rights," she explains. "They continue to consider it a private problem."
"When a woman reports domestic violence, it is common for police to consider it one person's word against another's, and to dismiss the case. It is not uncommon for both to be fined for a public incident, even when the woman is attacked. "
There are no restraining orders or protective orders in our country. "Women who report violence remain endangered, since nothing prevents the perpetrator from returning to take revenge for the complaint," says Diversent.
In many cases the offender's revenge has even meant the victim's murder. "They tend to be very cruel cases," she says. "The weapons most commonly used are knives and keys. In rural areas, mochas or machetes. "
The statistics on these cases of retaliation for reported violence are classified by the Supreme Court. No one knows the exact figures.
In general, there are no numbers available, as if the phenomenon was not important, with nobody bothering to document, and far less, analyze them. There are no figures on violence, murders of women, or crimes of passion.
The housing shortage is a factor aggravating the growth in cases of domestic violence. "Women put up with abuse for years because they have nowhere to go," says Diversent.
"The law forsakes them, because it states that children are to be registered at their mother's address, not where they actually live. This relieves the father of the responsibility to give them a roof over their heads, and makes mothers and children vulnerable to eviction in the future," she adds.
Some women who are abused for years end up killing their husbands, as they see no other solution to their problem. As domestic violence is not legally recognized, when a woman kills her husband she cannot claim self-defense; this argument is not recognized or admitted as a mitigating factor at trial. In most cases the act is considered premeditated murder, punishable by long prison terms.
However, men who kill their wives in a fit of jealousy are often considered perpetrators of unpremeditated crimes of passion, and receive less severe sentences.
"Here men can kill if there are mere rumors of infidelity by their partners," says Diversent. "There is so much male chauvinism that there comes a point when it doesn´t even matter if the infidelity is real, but rather what people believe."
Another law that worries the CEDAW is that allowing 14-year-old girls to marry with parental consent. Males, on the other hand, must be at least 16. In these cases the CEDAW demands that authorization come from a competent court.
In Laritza Diversent's view, girls ages 16 - 18 are those most harmed by the law. "They are legally minors, but in terms of their criminal responsibility, they're treated like adults," she explains.
Those responsible for enforcing women’s rights and protecting abused women are often abusers themselves.
Niurka once heard a neighbor, a lieutenant colonel with the Interior Ministry, say: "one of these days I'm going to shoot that broad," referring to a nearby resident, a single mother of two children, simply because she did not want belong to the CDR.
Leyda, a young military doctor, agrees: "The police and the military are those most prone to violence. On my last job I was in a military unit in which my boss demanded sexual favors in exchange for ‘making my life easier.’ When I refused, he harassed me and made my life miserable until I had to leave. They had already told me that he did the same thing to previous doctors and other subordinates."
This view concurs with the data held by Cubalex. "In many of our cases violence is perpetrated by husbands or ex-husbands who are members of the military. The figure is high," confirms Laritza Diversent. "In addition to their willingness to commit violence, they carry guns, and can use them at any time."
Diversent believes that there is much violence against women by members of the military, who are those wielding power in the country. "What can you expect from institutions that have no qualms about savagely beating women, in public, like the "Ladies in White?"
It is very clear that the State lacks the political will needed to enact criminalization, not only of domestic violence, but any form of violence against women.
In 2013 it informed the CEDAW that that the reform of the Family Code had been postponed and that the FMC "was considering" the possibility of such a law.
But nothing has changed since then. The FMC's "consideration" could go on forever, as this so-called NGO is not beholden to women, but rather to the Cuban state. Each time they are presented with a case of domestic violence they declare that they are not authorized to act, and refer it to the police.
If it took Chinese women more than ten years to see their law passed, it might take Cuba's women three times as long.