By Rebecca Theodore
It is clear that the political movements of the last decade only continue to undermine revolutionary movements and social welfare programs. However, as nation states are regraphed and ethnic and religious groups continue to compete for power, the political and physical conditions of women come to light.
In this regard, the eminence of Vilma Lucila Espín, wife of Raul Castro, sister-in-law of Fidel Castro, and one of the most influential women in Cuban politics, beams the beholder into a mirrored reflection of a woman who turned herself into a revolutionary during the Cuban revolution. Her involvement in a group headed by Frank País in opposition to the Fulgencio Batista dictatorship -- an informal revolutionary group that later merged with Fidel Castro's 26th of July movement is of special note.
Under País's command, “Deborah”, as she became known, prepared first aid brigades to care for the wounded once the yacht Granma arrived in Cuba carrying Castro and his associates. Espín worked underground for the revolution in Santiago, transporting weapons to the rebels in the Sierra Maestra. When Frank País was killed by the Batista army, Espín worked as an aide to Raul Castro, helping him coordinate clandestine work and guerilla operations in Oriente Province. In 1958, she joined the Castro guerrillas in the mountains under the name of “Mariela.”
As an esteemed figure of the revolution, the image of Ms Espín shouldering rifle and wearing combat fatigues during the rebel war helped change the attitude about the role of women in Cuba. Sadly enough, an androcentric society in Cuba represses Ms Espin’s struggle for women’s leadership rights as reason continues to dominate the controlling aspect of self-embodiment, passions and even history itself.
The dichotomy between women and reform in Communist Cuba will never be understood without the illuminated portrayal of Ms Espín’s leadership role on the pages of Cuban history, because in the same way reason is that which is given as an understanding to reality, the split between objectivity and subjectivity to discern reality in the patriarchal regime that now defines Cuba still sees women on the side of the less valued.
The way in which reality is conceived and played out in the everyday life of Cuban women in Cuba is not only manifested in oppression, exclusion and exploitation, reducing them to mere stereotypes and registering reason as an instrument of oppression, but subjugation of the female body buried in socialist ideology must be liberated as well. Ms Espín has achieved for women in Cuba what liberal feminists in the west are still fighting for, yet her achievements remain concealed by the intricacies of language and male domination in Cuba.
Although the Federation of Cuban Women (La Federacion de Mujeres Cubanas) (FMC), the organization founded by Ms Espin, has been essential in advancing both gender equalization and health improvement for women, and its recognition as both an NGO and a national mechanism for women gains wide support, the vast majority of Cuban women, who represent 46 percent of the country’s work force, are still not government supported or financed.
Active participation and training of leaders at all levels, mobilizing women into political work and government administration and domination of human rights in Cuba is still needed to complete the work of Vilma Lucila Espín.
In a country where speaking about human rights is an ideological deviance, the traditional role of morality and justice that Ms Espín demonstrated during the Cuban revolution must be highlighted. Ms Espín not only occupied the role of relief and support to her revolutionary male leaders as has been documented in Cuban history, but is a beacon of hope to all the women who are presently suffering against gender inequalities in Cuba and the Caribbean at large and further strengthens the women’s movement in the Caribbean.
Moreover, if the mission of the FMC is strengthening women's rights, fighting for the incorporation, participation, and promotion of women in economic, political, social, and cultural life in Cuba based on equal rights and opportunities; then over fifty years of revolution must be enough to have produced a keenly politicized Cuban woman capable of deep analysis, and concise projection to take the reins of leadership in Cuba and to work out solutions collectively for the Cuban people.
If Cuba under the leadership of the FMC has obtained for women everything that the movement for women’s right is presently asking for in an open 21st century, then why are Cuban women equal yet different and still totally excluded from the public square?
March 30, 2011