Díaz-Canel’s Wife Is a Ghost in Cuba / Iván García

Miguel Díaz-Canel and his wife, Lis Cuesta, arriving in Laos on November 10, 2018. (Granma newspaper)

Iván García, 19 November 2018  — In its most extreme forms Marxism is an explosive cocktail of ideological fanaticism, macho stupidity and freehand populism. A lethal combination of the worst kind of religious dogmatism and Mafia-style clan loyalty.

Fidel Castro’s forty seven-year rule of Cuba was marked by Olympic-sized violations of the basic principles of a modern democracy. He treated his first wife, Mirtha Díaz-Balart, like one of those porcelain vases that you put on of a table. He learned this from his father, Angel Castro, a crude and ignorant peasant from Galicia who came to the island to wage war against pro-independence forces and who later settled in the east of the country where he established a successful agricultural operation. Angel saw women as housewives and semen depositories.

In many ways Fidel is not much different from his father. He ruled the country like the family farm back in Birán and believed he had the right to possess any attractive blonde who he crossed his path. More than anything, he thought of himself as a warrior. As the founder of the first socialist state in the Americas, ninety miles from “the empire,” everyone had to fall to their feet before him. For men this meant carrying out his orders. For women it meant spreading their legs when he was sexually aroused.

One would have to look to the macho origins of the 1959 revolution to understand the absence of Lis Cuesta, the wife of President Díaz-Canel, in the state-run media. Raúl Castro, brother of the deceased dictator and himself later president, had the advantage of being a family guy. His marriage was a public one. And he spent his Sundays having lunch with friends, serving them spit-roasted pork leg and orange juice laced with vodka.

Although women gained social, economic and institutional status, their rise represented more of a tactical political move than evidence of real independence. Most of the regime’s heayweights had lovers on the side. It was considered to be in good taste and a sign of manliness, especially if she was a singer rather than a journalist.

Díaz-Canel knows firsthand how the levers of power work. No one can accuse him of being the typical macho type. A farm boy, he was born fifty-seven years ago in the Falcón district of Placetas in Villa Clara province. He is of another generation. When he held the post of first party secretary in Holguín province, he had no qualms about divorcing his wife and marrying Lis Cuesta Peraza, then a well-known teacher and cultural promoter.

A former Holguín resident who now lives in Havana recalls that “Díaz-Canel didn’t do as good a job in Holguín as he did in Villa Clara, but he always walked hand-in-hand with Lis, who was not as heavy as she is now.” A former official who knew Cuesta in Holguín claims she is affable and talkative, and likes to dance and drink beer, like any Cuban. “I don’t know why the press ignores her,” he notes, “as though she were a kitchen rag. She is a competent woman. Her husband should demand that the media give her more coverage.”

Susana, a university student likes “the way Díaz-Canel’s wife looks. She is not embarrassed to have a tatoo on her back. She’s attractive and wears brand-name clothes. But she should lose some weight. She should take advantage of her position and install a gym in her house.”

“The way the national media marginalizes the wife of the nation’s president is inexplicable,” says Jorge, a political science graduate. “On television we see her at his side on various overseas trips but the news anchor never mentions her. Because of political prejudices Cuba has eliminated the role of first lady, but they ought to at least say she is his wife.”

A government journalist, who prefers to remain anonymous, says, “There are no specific guidelines for how to classify Lis Cuesta. Six months ago a television anchor referred to her as the first lady and was reprimanded. They have tripped over themselves trying to describe her. It’s enough to simply say she is Díaz-Canel’s wife. Cubans who don’t follow politics don’t even know her name. The assumption is that, in a country that prides inself on the family being the building block of society, subjects like this must be treated tactfully.”

Lucía, a textile designer, wishes the government and the press would report on Lis Cuesta and stop acting as though she were invisible. “The first lady should have an active role, like in other Latin American countries,” she says. “Lis has good taste in clothes, is well-groomed and doesn’t wear too much makeup. But if she had an image consultant, she would come off better. She lacks spontaneity and her smile is forced. And both she and her husband should lose weight.”

Norge, an attorney, says, “I do not understand why — at a time when women are increasingly in the international spotlight, we are in the midst of the #MeToo whirlwind and women are strongly represented in United States Congress — our press ignores the wife of the current president. It shows a lack of respect for Lis Cuesta and for Cuban women.”

In all of Miguel Díaz-Canel’s foreign tours — to France, Russia, North Korea, Vietnam, Loas and a layover stop in London — the television anchor never mentioned Lis Cuesta when she appears on screen. It is as though she were a ghost.