Family Code: Socialism’s Straight Jacket / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Mom with young "Pioneer"

Mom with young “Pioneer”

The newspaper Granma insists that “it’s a code for the rights of women”. But in 1919,  as many women proportionally graduated from the University of Havana as graduated from universities as in the U.S. And with the Revolution, Cuban women are forced to raise their children under the mores mores of socialism, with the slogan “We will become like Che.”

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 28 February 2015 — In an extensive full-page article published on February 14th, the newspaper Granma (“Un Código de Amor para la Familia“), is full of praise for the 40th anniversary of the Cuban Family Code, which – in the words of Dr. Olga Mesa Castillo, president of the Cuban Civil Rights Society and of the Family of the National Syndicate of Attorneys, and faculty professor of and consultant to the Faculty of Law of the University of Havana — “is a code about the love and the rights of women.”

Paradoxically, not even the most politically correct academic discourse of a second-hand law officer can hide certain flaws that reveal the passive role of Cuban women since, with the arrival of F. Castro to power, their autonomy was appropriated and, along with it, their ability to freely associate to defend their gender interests, issues relating to the family, the right to choose their children’s education, etc. In fact, it can be argued that the Revolution of 1959 put to rest even the last vestiges of the Cuban feminist movement.

That explains why, when Dr. Mesa refers to “those who conceived and were involved in [the code’s] drafting,” she mentioned ten people’s names and only one of them was a woman, which means that the Family Code, which “enabled Cuban women to fly” was – just like the Revolution itself and all of its laws — essentially conceived and drafted by men, though by then 16 long years had elapsed under a system of supposed gender equality.

Nevertheless, we must be aware that this law, de jure, benefited the interests of minor children born in or outside marriage, it favored the allowing of divorce, and constituted a guarantee for families based on informal (or consensual) marriages, and for the right of children born from those unions. Another question would be to determine how effective the law has been in practice, if it has been applied extensively, and how the subject of civil law would be justified at a preset ideology, when sanctioning the obligation to establish a family and raise children “according to socialist standards.”

Cleaning up history

So, beyond the official vice of collecting calendar anniversaries for whatever reason, the issue moves us to question and to calling to mind, not just because of the usual compliments to justice and female equity, achieved thanks to the Revolution, or because of the monumental tackiness of adopting the law on Valentine’s day, but for the perversity of intentionally misrepresenting the role of women in Cuban history, omitting the unquestionable legal gains made by the women’s movement during the Republican period.

An in-depth historical analysis of the role of women since the Cuban wars for independence in the nineteenth-century would be extensive, but it is essential to recall the Republican period because it was then that the foundations of legal conquests were seated, from a women’s movement that — while not claiming the participation of women in politics, as was happening in developed countries, such as the US — at least was struggling for a larger share, employment opportunities, and social protection connected with maternity and family.

Thus, as early as 1914, discussions began about the relevance to legislating divorce. In 1916, a legal bill was presented guaranteeing married women self-management of their assets – managed by their husbands, fathers or guardians until then – which was approved in May, 1918. That same year the divorce bill was passed.

As for educational and cultural strides, by 1919 Cuban women had reached the same level of literacy as men and in the decade of the ‘20s proportionately as many women graduated from the Cuban University as did from American universities. [1]

Between 1923 and 1940, Cuban feminist groups influenced the political forces in support of legislation for women’s rights and founded several associations and media publications to defend women’s interests. There were also women’s associations that promoted class actions, such as the Women’s Labor Union, an organization that placed the issue of working class women ahead of women’s suffrage rights. [2]

At the same time, there was an increase in women’s activism aimed at influencing legislative decisions, partnerships were established with various influential political and economic groups – entirely controlled by men — there were street demonstrations, ideas about women’s rights were published in newspapers and the radio, obstetric clinics were built, night schools for women were organized, women’s health programs were developed and contacts with feminist groups abroad were established. [3]

It is true that women just took part in legislative debates, but the demonstrations organized by activists and the first feminist groups of the time were instrumental in modifying civil and property rights that changed the rules of property management — a distinctly masculine role until then — and along with them, of women within the family, thus taking a significant step forward for women’s rights compared to other countries in the region over the same period.

New laws favored citizenship status of women, establishing their autonomy and rights, which proved a decisive factor for the development of women’s movements in the following years.

In 1923, with the participation of 31 associations, the first women’s national congress was held; the second one in 1925, saw the participation of 71 associations.
In 1933, a strong feminine campaign claimed the right to vote (which had been proposed by Ana Betancourt since the previous century), which was formally acknowledged in the

Interim Constitution of 1934

In 1939, the Third National Congress of Women was held, whose final resolutions demanded “a constitutional guarantee for women’s equal rights,” a demand which was discussed in the Constituent Assembly and finally recognized in Article 97 of the 1940 Constitution: “Universal, equal, and secret suffrage is established for all Cuban citizens as their right, duty, and function.” [4]

Thus, in spite of the traditionalist nature of the feminist movement in Cuba, of the shortage of legal mechanisms and limitations of our ancestral culture and idiosyncrasies, Cuban women could vote and be legally elected to public office even before many suffragists in more developed countries.

To summarize, important legal strides were attained during the Republic, as important as the right to vote, full capacity to make decisions about property, the paid maternity law (though that did not include domestic or agricultural workers), recognition of the rights of “illegitimate” children and a gradual increase in protection of the rights of women workers. In fact, those gains during the Republican era were influential in a notable increase in the incorporation of women into paid jobs, especially in urban areas, a process that was becoming stronger in the years before the arrival of the Castro regime.

Two readings of the same Code

Now the official press and its cohorts of useful shysters, in the style of Dr. Olga Mesa, aim to score for “the Revolution” of 1959 what were legal conquests of Cubans many decades before. While it is true that those female fighters of the Republic did not free themselves of patriarchal subjection – cultural patrimony that even today has not been totally overcome — or participate actively in national politics, they launched a new feminine social model and created favorable conditions to advance to higher levels of emancipation, compared to many countries in the world.

In the years following 1959, the ideology that hijacked the power quickly appropriated all spheres of socio-economic and political life of the nation, including domestic areas. Thus, the full potential and aspirations of feminine equality became subordinate to the service of regime.

The rich tradition of the struggle of Cuban women was finally limited to “a present” on Valentine’s Day of this outdated and anachronistic law called “Family Code,” mechanically repeated in every marriage ceremony… as long as the ceremony takes place between Cubans.

I was able to evidence this these last few days, when I had the opportunity to attend the wedding in Cuba of a young Cuban woman, residing abroad for more than a decade, and her Spanish boyfriend. So, here is where “the Family Code” which — microphone in hand — was read by the celebrant before the spouses and guests, had been mutilated in its essence: the legal imposition of “educating children on the principles of socialist morality.” Since this was the case of spouses who do not reside in Cuba, they were released from such a legal aberration.

As an additional detail, there was no Cuban flag or Cuban coat or arms presiding over the ceremony. Perhaps what happens in these cases is that the services are paid for in foreign currency, and we already know that socialism takes a step back in the face of capital. Or perhaps it is just that, in family matters, capitalism really is “clueless.”

[1] K. LYNN STONER. De la casa a la calle, p. 184
[2] CASTELLANOS, DIMAS CECILIO. Desentrañando claves (inédito), Havana, 2011
[3] CASTELLANOS, DIMAS CECILIO. Desentrañando claves (inédito), Havana, 2011
[4] PICHARDO, HORTENSIA. Documentos para la historia de Cuba. Volume IV, Part 2, p.349

Translated by Norma Whiting

Musings of a Blind Man (3) / Angel Santiesteban

At this point in the historic events that have taken place in recent days between Cuba and the United States, it is not worthwhile to have regrets, but rather to understand the reasons for these events, and try to find a positive view of them.

I dare say that President Obama has passed the ball to the Cuban rulers. Now they have in their court what they have been long been clamoring for. We shall see what they are capable of doing with it. Most likely, the Castro brothers will not know what to do with the new possibility that can only lead to the path of liberty and democracy. This is something that they are unwilling to concede, albeit knowing of the great chance that the Republicans will assume power in the next U.S. elections and will revoke Continue reading

With Raul Castro, Are the Poor Poorer? / Ivan Garcia

condiciones-en-que-vive-niña-con-cáncer1-_mn-620x330

Iván García, 26 February 2015 — José lives with his wife and five kids, crammed into a nine by twelve foot space with a wooden platform, in a shack in Santos Suárez, a slum south of Havana.

The tenement is a precarious spot where the electric cables hang from the roof,  water runs down the narrow central passage from the plumbing leaks, and a disgusting smell of sewage hangs in your nose for hours.

That shack forms part of a group of ramshackle settlements where more than 90 thousand Havanans live, according to Joel, a housing official in the 10 de Octubre municipality.

There are worse places. On the outskirts of the capital, shantytowns are spreading like the invasive marabou weed. There are more than 50 of them. Houses made of sections of aluminium and cardboard, without any sanitation Continue reading

Seven Steps to Kill Orlando Zapata Tamayo / Luis Felipe Rojas

Orlando Zapata Tamayo

Luis Felipe Rojas — I published this post a few days after that needless death. Now I again denounce the death and express the same ideas about it. It’s my homage to my brother, Orlando Zapata Tamayo.

I am still experiencing the pain caused by that avoidable death, and I feel impotent because I didn’t attend the funeral honoring him due to political impediments, but that hasn’t stopped me from saying that in any case, what I present here seem to be the seven final steps that advanced the repressive machinery used to kill Zapata.

1. Setting up that para-judicial theater that imposed a sentence of 63 years on him for contempt.

2. The continuous beatings accompanied by obscene words and insults about his race and the region where he lived (shitty negro, shitty peasant). Continue reading

An Ethical Path for Civil Society / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

Meeting of Cuban Civil Society Open Forum (Photo: Luz Escobar)

Meeting of Cuban Civil Society Open Forum (Photo: Luz Escobar)

cubanet square logoCubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 25 February 2015 — This Wednesday, February 25th, 2015, a new meeting of the members Espacio Abierto [Cuban Civil Society Open Forum] of the independent civil society took place with a broad representation of members of various pro-democracy projects throughout the Island, as well as independent journalists. A total of 25 participants took part in the symposium, where, in addition, views on issues of interest to the Cuban reality were exchanged.

On this occasion, among the most important points of the discussion adopted by full consensus was the document “An ethical roadway for Cuban civil society” which — as its name suggests — provides a guide for the basic principles governing the conclave, and a Motion of Solidarity with civil society and the Venezuelan opposition at a time when the repression tends to flare up with a statement that emphasizes leaders like Leopoldo López, who recently served a year in prison; Maria Corina Machado, a former deputy who was attacked Continue reading

Birds of Ill Omen / 14ymedio, Eliecer Avila

A young man with a tablet

A young man with a tablet

14ymedio bigger

14ymedio, Eliecer Avila, 28 February 2015 — A topic that is raised for discussion these days is the obsolete argument that some official voices never stop repeating at every opportunity they have to strain relations between Cuba and the United States or rather between Cuba and the Outside World. I am referring to the supposed “need” of implementing “appropriate measures designed to avoid the penetration that the enemy hopes to make into Cuban society.”

Just a few days ago, in the context of the first National Workshop on Computing and Cyber-Security held in Havana, with the physical or virtual presence of thousands of computer engineers, really absurd speeches Continue reading

Salaries for Doctors on the Island Will Increase / Cubanet, Roberto Jesus Quinones

cubanet square logoCubanet, Roberto Jesus Quinones, Guantanamo, 16 February 2015 — A rumor is keeping  the medical sector in Guantanamo euphoric, and it provokes immediate outbursts of joy in hospital corridors, in homes and in every place the supposedly good news is known. No one knows the origin of the rumor nor its hidden intent.

According to those who are in charge of spreading it, very soon the government will increase the salary for doctors. And, as happens with every rumor, there are always those who know everything about it and affirm that the new increase will be put into force to try to contain the exodus of physicians abroad by way of Continue reading

Music After The Death of Fidel / Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

A ROSE IN YOUR HAIR PERISHES

Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo

There aren’t enough of the stupid-ass songs. Because those same songs, the ones we joked stupid-assedly about in our rage-filled adolescence, are now the only thing left that allows us to know what we were, what we are, what we will be.

With those songs, we can forget about everything and everybody. It seems like we have it all if we have them, these jingles from our bad memory. And then we don’t feel that malady we carry that weighs us down, that ruins this life we have and can’t live.  Much less do confront destiny, that deviation that destabilizes us from despotism to despotism, and from corpse to corpse, without their ever sparking in our breast that semi-magical, semi-mendacious flame of love Continue reading

Amnesty International Denounces Increase in Arbitrary Detentions in Cuba / 14ymedio

Members of State Security arrest women from the Ladies in White organization (Ernesto Mastruscusa/EFE)

Members of State Security arrest women from the Ladies in White organization (Ernesto Mastruscusa/EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 24 February 2015 — Short-duration detentions increased considerably in Cuba in 2014, according to the annual report published today by Amnesty International. The human rights organization, with headquarters in London, emphasizes that the situation with respect to freedom of expression, association and assembly, infringed on by criminal prosecutions for political reasons, did not improve. Amnesty International expects, nevertheless, that the announcement of the re-establishment of diplomatic relations between the Island and the United States may help produce a significant change in the matter of human rights.

The report highlights the 27% increase in short-duration detentions last year, according to data from the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, which counted almost 9,000 brief arrests. The Ladies in White organization suffers the most from this type of repression Continue reading

Cuba: Medical Impotence / Cubanet, Miriam Celaya

salud

cubanet square logoWhile the government exports thousands of doctors, old diseases are coming back, such as dengue fever, tuberculosis, whooping cough, chikungunya, and cholera, and new exotic diseases are appearing that had never before been seen on the Island.

Cubanet, Miriam Celaya, Havana, 18 February 2015 – For a few days, Maritza thought that her four-year-old son’s persistent cough was due to a combination of a cold and his chronic allergies. The crisis had started with a fever and a few episodes of hacking cough, and had escalated over the next couple of days, even though he was no longer running a fever. The pediatrician’s diagnosis confirmed Maritza’s suspicions: Alain was suffering from a viral infection, so they would follow the normal treatment in cases like his: they would watch him, give him plenty of liquids, expectorants and antihistamines

But after two weeks, his coughing got so much stronger and frequent that Maritza ended up having to go to Pediatric Hospital at Centro Habana so that her son – already cyanotic and having respiratory spasms Continue reading

Seven Hours with Jorge Luis Piloto in Miami / Ivan Garcia

Jorge Lis Piloto and Ivan Garcia in Miami

Iván García, 4 February 2015 — For the prolific and noteworthy Cuban composer, Jorge Luis Piloto Alsar, born in the winter of 1955 in Cárdenas in the town of Matanzas, some 145 kilometers north of Havana, not in his wildest dreams could he have imagined that his songs would achieve international fame.

Let’s get into the time machine. An ordinary day in the ’70’s. Culturally speaking, Cuba was going through a rough period. Writers, poets and composers are being administered by the state, following Fidel Castro’s decree.

The cinema, novels, la guaracha, and sound must highlight the exploits of the revolution. The government controls all of it. In your profile, you have to indicate how many marches you have been on and how much voluntary work you have participated in, if you want to pass the summer in a house on the beach, have a Russian fridge Continue reading

The Ordeal of Automated Teller Machines / 14ymedio, Rosa Lopez

Lines at Cuban ATMs grow on weekends (14ymedio)

Lines at Cuban ATMs grow on weekends (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Rosa Lopez, Havana, 23 February 2015 – The line reached the corner and was moving with agonizing slowness. They were not selling eggs or potatoes. It wasn’t even a line for seeking a visa. Those who waited just wanted access to the automatic teller, the only one working last Saturday afternoon near Havana’s Central Park.

A few days before MasterCard can be used in Cuba, many are asking how the Cuban bank network will deal with the increased demand for money if it can barely keep its service afloat for domestic users and tourists.

The congestion in front of the machines grows even though only 1.3 million magnetic cards have been issued in the country, and for the moment only retirees, customers with accounts in convertible pesos, businesses that have contracts with the bank, self-employed workers and international collaborators can get them. The rest of society continues to depend exclusively on paper currency.

“When the subject is money, people fume,” says a young man whose Saturday night hangs by a thread because of the congested ATM. Even though this weekend the temperature dropped in the city, no one seemed ready to leave before getting their cash.

The scene is repeated at most of the 550 ATMs (Automated Teller Machines or automatic tellers) of Chinese manufacture, of which 398 are in Havana. In 2013 200 new units were purchased in China, but the majority were to replace defective terminals and did not solve the serious deficit of tellers. Cash payment is still the most common method in Cuba for acquiring products and services.

The scarcity of terminals combines with the deficient functioning of the system, affected by electrical outages, frequent connection failures between the ATM and the bank and lack of cash

The terminals are only available in private businesses with great resources and obvious official backing 

Almost all the self-employed workers offer their services for cash payment. The use of point of sale terminals (TPVs) for card scanning and payment, also known as POS, is only available in private businesses with great resources and obvious official backing.

In state business networks, the landscape is different but not very promising either. Although there exist POS terminals in most big department stores and hard currency shops, their service is unstable and slow. “When a client comes to pay with a card, the line stops for minutes because sometimes the communication with the bank is down and you have to try it several times,” explains a cashier from the busy market at 70th Street and 3rd in Miramar.

In the provincial cities and above all in the townships, where they are practically non-existent, the ATM and POS situation is even worse. Tourists who travel deep into Cuba must carry cash with them, increasing the risk of theft and loss in addition to the demand for liquidity.

The problem hits natives and foreigners. “Why do they pay me on the card if in the end I have to go get the money at the bank because I can make purchases almost nowhere with this?” complains Marilin Ruiz, a former elementary school teacher who also was waiting in line on Saturday for the ATM near Central Park. The delay was so long that she wound sharing recipes for making flan without milk and knitting suggestions with another woman.

 “I have a pension of less than 200 pesos (about $8 US) and I spend up to two hours in line at the teller to collect it,” an old woman complained

Between the 4th and 6th of each month, Cuban retirees go to ATMs to collect their pensions. “I have a pension of less than 200 pesos (about $8 US) and I spend up to two hours in line at the teller to collect it,” explained Asuncion, an old woman of close to eighty years of age. Meanwhile, some kids scamper from one side to the other. They are the children of a couple waiting at the end of the line without much hope of getting money before nightfall.

“We are late for everything; when the world has spent decades using plastic, now it is that we are trying it,” laments Asuncion. The first ATMs, of French manufacture, were installed in Cuba in 1997, but after 2004 only Chinese terminals arrived.

Asuncion keeps in her wallet a Visa card that her son sent her from Madrid. “I use this only every three months when he puts a little on it for my expenses.” There are no public statistics about how many of the country’s residents might be making frequent use of debit or credit cards associated with a foreign bank account of an emigrated relative, but the phenomenon has grown in the last decade.

In the line several Chinese student also put their Asian patience to the test with the red and blue cards in hand from the Chinese banking conglomerate UnionPay. More than 3000 citizens of that country study or work on the Island, and they receive their family remittances through that channel. Also, in 2013 alone some 22,000 Chinese tourists visited Cuba.

“We Cubans and Chinese are good at waiting, but let the gringos arrive in great numbers, they are more desperate, they want everything fast,”

“We Cubans and Chinese are good at waiting, but let the gringos arrive in great numbers, they are more desperate, they want everything fast,” says Lazaro, a teen with tight clothes, to a friend with whom he waits in the line.

The alternative to the ATM, which might be the window of the bank branch, is not recommended. In Havana there are 90 branches of the Banco Metropolitano, but at the end of 2014 at least twelve offices were partially or completely closed because of problems ranging from leaks, sewer network blockages, danger of building collapse or other infrastructure issues. Insufficient attention and lack of trust in the banking system make many continue to prefer hiding money “under the mattress.”

The limited work schedule of banks and the scarcity of offices open on weekends cause long lines on weekends in front of ATMs. The more optimistic, however, manage to profit from the wait. Marilin managed to achieve everything by renting a room in her house to the Chinese students who must, of course, pay in cash.

Asuncion could not stand the pain in her legs and left without her money, while the couple at the end of the line had to buy some ice cream to pacify their restless children. Lazaro was luckier, and in addition to exchanging phone numbers with a French woman whom he met in the crowd, he managed to extract twenty convertible pesos from the ATM to spend that same night. At least this time the blue screen did not appear with the “out of service” announcement, nor was there a power outage and, yes, the machine had cash.

Translated by MLK