Femicide in Cuba?

By Yasvily Méndez Paz

The murder of young Leidy Maura Pacheco Mur in Cienfuegos in September 2017 still causes shock in the population of that Cuban province. “My girl was kidnapped on Tuesday, raped on Tuesday and killed on Tuesday”, maintains her father with infinite sorrow for the loss of her daughter. Back then, the local media followed up on the case, even though that’s not the usual modus operandi of official news outlets; in fact, the incident had greater national resonance through social and alternate media. The death of this young girl of only 18 years of age is not an isolated episode; other cases reported in Havana, Matanzas, Camagüey and Cienfuegos indicate so. Is there femicide in Cuba or not? The issue has caused controversy in the social networks. Although there are very few official statistics, news of the cases spread in the population through word-of-mouth or are recorded by unofficial news outlets.

From the beginning of this century, femicide has become a matter of international interest. The very word “femicide” is in dispute, but there’s consensus in that the term refers to a specific type of homicide where a male murders his victim for reasons of gender or for the fact of her being a woman. Because of its characteristics and the connotation it acquires, the issue has had differences in its treatment from the legal, sociological and journalistic points of view, among others. Authors such as Diana E. H. Russell have proposed a number of designations for different instances of femicide, taking into account the causes which generate the crime and the types of relationships between the perpetrator and the victim.

The figures of femicides reported in Latin America in the present year are not encouraging; however, some progress in the region with regard to the issue is indisputable. Several Latin American countries have classified femicide or aggravated murder for reasons of gender as a specific crime. Faced with the gravity of the problem, the UN has insisted on the need that countries in the region give priority to public policies oriented towards preventing, penalizing and eradicating this scourge.

Since the 1990s, Cuba has paid differentiated attention to gender-motivated violence. However, the same has not happened with femicide, and it is not considered a legal-penal category. The Cuban Penal Code sanctions with imprisonment from fifteen to thirty years, or with the death penalty, any person who kills another in a number of defined circumstances, which include “acting on impulses of sadism or of brutal depravity”, but its wording does not devote special treatment to the issue at hand. The subject has become invisible, which has brought about much criticism in the social networks and the media. Classifying femicide as a crime is not enough for its eradication, but not having official and specialized outlets where the Cuban population may access annual femicide rates is a problem that has led to speculation in the levels of information.

Recently, national and international news media have shown themselves hopeful about the issue. For the first time, Cuba has acknowledged the existence of femicide in the Informe Nacional sobre la implementación de la Agenda 2030 (National Report on the Implementation of Agenda 2030). In the document –presented in April during the meeting of the Latin American and Caribbean Forum on Sustainable Development– it is stated that “in the case of femicides, the number of deaths caused by the partner or ex-partner has dropped between 2013 and 2016 by 33.0 percent. In this last year, the femicide rate was 0.99 per 100 000 female inhabitants of 15 years or older”. It is curious that those years are taken as a reference and that updated statistics are not included. If we compare the data provided with other sources, we are able to corroborate that, for 2016, the femicide rate in Cuba was low in comparison with countries such as El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala, Mexico or Brazil, and high if compared to that of Peru, Chile or Panama. Cuba has concealed the femicide rates so as not to endanger the credibility of the Cuban political system. Nevertheless, people want to know and to make their own decisions, in an era when it is impossible to hide the information, for it can reach us in multiple ways.

As E. H. Russell said, “the purpose of detailing such atrocities is not to horrify the reader, but to try to make our resistance advance by acknowledging that women are currently living in a time of growing and brutal femicides; a time when the myth persists among many young women, privileged students, that the feminist revolution has been fulfilled and that they have the same options and opportunities as men”. Acknowledging the existence of the problem makes it a public issue which requires the attention of governments and specialized institutions and, at the same time, it allows to analyze the subject specifically and to find solutions which target the causes that generate it. It is something worth thinking about.

(Translated from the original)

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