August 31, 2022
Kianay Anandra Pérez

The Bécquer Case: Notes for a MeToo in Cuba

“The main thing about a troubadour, and I don’t want to be absolute,
But it’s about the female affair, going after the girl.
The guitar is a pretext (…)”

Fernando Bécquer, in an interview with Oni Acosta (2017)

In October 2017, the New York Times published numerous reports and complaints from actresses against the film producer and executive Harvey Weinstein, making the MeToo movement a globally recognized phenomenon. The sexual assaults and harassment this man committed were an open secret for almost three decades in the entertainment industry. The phrase MeToo was first used in 2006 by civil rights activist Tarana Burke on her Myspace social network; she was trying to bring visibility to sexually abused Black women, appealing to sisterhood as a mechanism for empowerment.

Two years later in 2019, the MeToo era would arrive to Cuba through reports of the abuse suffered by Dianelis Alfonso Cartaya, known as “La Diosa,” for more than 15 years at the hands of the musician Jose Luis “El Tosco” Cortes, director of NG The Band. Hours later, hashtags such as #MeTooEnCuba, #NoEstasSola (“You are not alone”), and #DiosaYoSiTeCreo (“Diosa I believe you”) were seen on social networks, expressing their support for the singer and, in some cases, sharing personal experiences of harassment and abuse.

As a result of this, the Facebook group YoSiTeCreo in Cuba was created (Instagram: @yositecreocuba[) as a support platform for victims of gender violence in the country. The group managed to convert those complaints and subsequent messages of support into a request for a comprehensive law against gender violence in an open letter to the National Assembly of People’s Power. The letter was signed by forty diverse Cuban women concerned with the persistence of gender violence in the country.

Complaints against predators have plagued national media since then. Some never reached beyond the domestic sphere; others that were aimed at public figures were described as isolated incidents. Names like the Cuban painter Agustin Bejarano, Alexis Leiva Machado (KCHO), or the testimony of Mavys Alvarez, the Cuban minor sexually abused by soccer player Diego Armando Maradonna, come to mind.

Again, two years had to pass before the movement regained strength. In November 2021, the independent Cuban media outlet El Estornudo published the report Five Complaints of Sexual Abuse Against Fernando Bécquer. Immediately afterwards, dozens of women — residents, non-residents on the island, nationals, and foreigners — claimed to have suffered the same abuses as Any, Liliana, Claudia, Silvia, and Patricia at the hands of the musician. The testimonies span over a period of almost two decades and were known by the Cuban troubadour community close to the artist.

The victims were mostly women who were emotionally vulnerable and who frequented the same spaces as him. He would offer them a “religious consultation” at his house, which later translated into sexual assaults of different kinds, and only through his ejaculation could they get rid of the evils and sorrows that tormented them.

The testimonies collected by El Estornudo outed his accomplices for having formed a patriarchal pact, and their support is almost as, if not more, impressive than the facts themselves. In the case of Ariel Díaz, he considered Bécquer’s house reliable and safe, even while knowing what was happening there. Adrián Berazaín was caught saying: “Dude, not with her, she is a good girl.” He later blamed victims for making up this phrase in his name. Then there was Mauricio Figuerial with: “Damn, it seems incredible that you fell for that,” as if the victims were to blame. And finally, the fraternal support among fellow troubadours Ray Fernández and Raúl Torres. 

The report had a second part, that time compiling 16 new testimonies. At the same time, there have been multiple complaints about the testimonials on Facebook through different profiles, questioning the veracity of the complaints. Bécquer was also accused of rape with penetration in an article published by the magazine Tremenda Nota.

Out of all of them, around 6 or 7 women made a corresponding complaint. They claim to have received legal advice from CENESEX (National Center for Sex Education), as well as specialized and therapeutic support from the same organization and the Oscar Arnulfo Center. They were informed a few months ago that the case had passed the final investigation process and was in the Prosecutor’s Office, which suggests the case has not been completely dismissed. Some reports say that Fernando Bécquer has taken precautionary measures, but there is no confirmation of this. However, on the night of March 24th, the musician appeared in a video clip on a Cuban television program. It is not the first time since the complaints were made.

It would seem like a coincidence, but on November 9th, one day after the publication of the article in El Estornudo, the long-awaited Comprehensive Strategy for the Attention to and Prevention of Gender-Based Violence was announced in Gazette 101 of 2021. It addresses different areas and offers general deadlines and institutional responsibilities. It has been described by activists and specialists in the field as a “starting point,” a kind of political declaration to address certain issues related to sexist violence.

Almost simultaneously and without making specific mention of Fernando Bécquer or the victims, the CENESEX, the FMC (Federation of Cuban Women), and other official institutions issued statements through their respective social networks and platforms highlighting the state’s willingness to respond to gender-based violations. Some mentioned various ways and spaces to receive help: a telephone line, the Directorate for Family Protection and Jurisdictional Affairs, the Women and Family Orientation Houses that exist in each municipality, medical offices and clinics, Mental Health Community Centers, and the National Revolutionary Police stations.

How many women or feminized bodies will have to be violated for the government to consider pertinent the approval and implementation of a comprehensive law against gender violence? What have they done seven months after what happened?

The spaces that exist to offer help do not replace the need for a comprehensive law against gender violence. Since December, Bécquer has been back on the street, visiting the same places, while complainants and allies are waiting for him to appear in court to see whether he will receive a maximum sentence for his attacks.

Neither Santería, nor Ifá, nor palo monte or crossed spiritism normalize gender violence, and none of them accept any practice that is sexually violent. Therefore, what we could begin to call the “Bécquer case” is a punishable act, completely unrelated to religious and ethical-moral precepts. But the missing legal framework in Cuba to condemn abuses perpetrated by pseudo-religious abusers gives them a certain degree of impunity. So far, the Yoruba Association of Cuba has not issued an opinion on this regard.

Initially, in the vast majority of cases, survivors seek recognition of what happened, a space that allows them to tell their story and truth, and to feel that they are not alone. But in a country like Cuba, where Law No. 54 of 1985 (the Associations Law) restricts the ability of citizens (especially women) to develop networks of support and care, the freedom of expression (and association) that social networks provide make them the ideal place to start a debate that is so necessary for society. This supports the idea that gender-based violence should be part of the public agenda in the media, as it is a daily reality faced by more than half of the population.

Regardless of the multiple ways in which we can typify gender or sexist violence, the brutality of the experiences themselves can only be measured by the victims. A typical error that Cuban people and institutions make is that, in order to support women in situations of gender violence, they must build credibility. According to Cuban legislation, public denunciations like the one against the Cuban troubadour Fernando Bécquer are sufficient for the authorities to initiate an investigation. It is not the victim’s duty to approach these spaces if she has already made a public complaint in some medium. In any case, the interest should be that of the watchdog institutions.

The “formal” channels of aid proposed by the Cuban legal system are not entirely effective either. The confidential telephone line (103) was initially attended by men, a serious flaw in the methodology of any attention for women in situations of violence. Even the latest reports indicate that the line was not working and was not being attended. As a civil society, it is our duty to force these structures to respond.

Cuban women need to know that the institutions at their disposal are there to safeguard and protect them, since the inefficiency of the structures themselves can condition many victims to withhold their complaints. Add to this the role of the official press, which has not addressed the case. The official press should uphold proper ethical practices and have an intentional gender perspective in order to provide dignified and careful support.

Likewise, there is a lack of transparency and communication from the criminal courts themselves. Reparation for victims does not begin with verdicts, but instead when they decide to publicize the complaint or ask for advice and help. Testifying about sexual, physical, and emotional harassment is hostile if the space to do so is a police station where uniformed men are agents of authority. Being informed is part of the reparative dynamics for victims of gender violence, in addition to not being stigmatized or re-victimized in these procedures.

May the Bécquer case serve to show that gender violence is a collective and structural problem where the victims are always the axis of all aid.

The Fight Against Gender Violence is a Political Fight

A State that does not see abuses is also an accomplice. “I don’t believe anything. I believe in the Revolution” was the phrase the musician used when I rebuked him outside a concert at the cultural center Arte Habana the day after the report was published in El Estornudo.

These are moments too politically fragile and polarized to compromise the discourse promoted by power structures and government propaganda without thinking twice. The fight against gender violence is a political fight. This makes it transversal to any political and ideological system. Patriarchy is a system of social organization that prevails in almost all systems of social relationships and is governed by more or less universal laws.

Bécquer is not instrumentalizing the issue of gender violence for policy, but he is making instrumental use of a political agenda to ensure impunity in the face of aggression. In addition to a lack of effective, concrete, and credible strategies to protect women, he has stamped the Revolution with supporting a rapist.

It is not surprising that, in a macho society like Cuba’s, sexual aggressors and predators are deployed in countless spaces, conquering areas in culture, politics, economics, and beyond, both within the ruling party and in the opposition. It is not the only patriarchal and macho society in the world, but it is the one that hurts me the most.

In order for the MeToo movement to lead to a true cultural change that eliminates this type of violence in society, it is necessary to stop seeing cases of harassment and abuse as simple, individual, and isolated acts. The culprits are not just perverse and depraved people, but all the complicity surrounding these acts, their normalization and impunity. This could be the beginning of a much longer and sustained conversation over time, with concrete results that Cuban citizens in general deserve, but Cuban women in particular: being able to create the support networks that these women need on a legal level. Some of us have been reporting complaints for years, and every time a MeToo peak returns, it is important to recognize past complaints made by brave women who did not receive an effective response in order to raise awareness about the structural effects of patriarchy.

We are in the middle of 2022, but the draft for the Comprehensive Law Against Gender Violence will not be analyzed until 2028. Meanwhile, there will be enough femicides, rapes, abuses, and other acts of violence to fill several volumes of reports.

La Diosa’s complaint was criminally active from 2019 until El Tosco’s death a couple of months ago. To date, the complaints against Fernando Bécquer are in the office of the Attorney General without a response date. What there is around this troubadour is complicity, pure and simple: he belongs to a circle that combines bohemian rhetoric, alcohol, and poetry with the impunity offered by a space of power, that of the institution that is Cuban culture. Misogyny and machismo in this and other spaces are not news, but insisting on the privilege of that position of power over the direct claims of the victims and allowing it to continue in the streets is wrong.

It goes without saying that the Cuban MeToo should not happen every two or three years. They will surely talk to each other about how exaggerated and hypersensitive women have become lately. They show it every time they allow another sordid charge to the sentence: “With the Revolution everything, against the Revolution nothing.” Advice from a woman who has been a victim of gender violence. Matria y Vida!

Kianay Anandra Pérez (Havana, 1996) Feminist. Journalist. She has collaborated with different media such as the magazine Tremenda Nota, Alas Tensas, and Árbol Invertido.

llustration by Maikel Martínez Pupo. You can find him @MaikelStudio @maikelmartinezpupo.