Happy International Women’s Day…for all

March 8th is International Women’s Day.

It started more than a century ago to call attention to the struggles of women who worked as garment workers.

Now, it’s a global celebration; it still shines a spotlight on the harsh conditions that women confront, but also reminds us that making progress on women’s rights as human rights, equal access to economic opportunity and political power, will bring us closer to a more just world.

To join the celebration, our organization, the Center for Democracy in the Americas (CDA), released this report, “Women’s Work: Gender Equality in Cuba and the Role of Women Building Cuba’s Future.”

It examines progress made by Cuban women toward gender equality since the 1950s and discusses how that progress can be sustained in the future.

We published the report after two years of fact-finding, collaboration with Cuban and U.S. scholars, and four research trips to the island, during which we interviewed dozens of Cuban women who spoke candidly to us about their lives, their gripes, and their aspirations.

In it, you will hear the voice of Emilia, an auditor who speaks three languages. She says, “I was born in the Revolution.  It has given me opportunities.” Mimi, an academic, who was told by a manager not to get married or have kids, discusses sexism in the workplace.  Barbara, a small business woman, who tells us about the decision making, the ability to save money, and the feelings of independence that come from being her own boss.

The story in Cuba is really interesting and really complex.  In the mid-1950s, the Cuban revolution made gender equality an important part of its political project.  After coming to power, Cuba’s government acted on its commitments and began addressing widespread attitudes that held women and a lot of other Cubans back.

If you just look at the numbers, the progress is extraordinary.  According to Save the Children, Cuba scores first among developing countries in maternal mortality, live births attended by health care personnel, female life expectancy at birth, and other factors.  It has tripled the number of Cuban women who work.  It has fulfilled the Millennium Development Goals for primary education, gender equality and reducing infant mortality.

These accomplishments are met with skepticism, even disbelief, by some in the U.S.; because Cuba has a tiny economy, it is not capitalist or rich and, by U.S. standards, it is not free.

But, it is also the case that these numbers don’t tell the full story.

Measured against key objectives of gender equality – do women have access to higher-paying jobs; can they achieve a fair division of labor at work and home; are they acceding to positions of real power in the communist party or government– Cuban women told us their country has a long way to go.

What about the future?  To address its economic problems, Cuba is taking steps to update its economic model – for example, cutting state jobs, and reallocating spending on health and education programs – that propelled women forward.  As Cuban scholars tell us, these actions could have real repercussions for women and gender equality.

So, the report concludes with recommendations about the role Cuban women can play in building their country’s future.

Because we believe that having a stable and prosperous Cuba ninety miles from our shores is in the national interest of the United States, our recommendations include steps the U.S. can take to signal its support for women and Cuba’s economic reforms writ large.

We are not alone in holding this view.  As Jane Harman, who served in the U.S. House and who is director, president and chief executive of the Woodrow Wilson Center, told the New York Times:  “Whether or not one favors major change in U.S. policy toward Cuba (which I personally do), shining light on the need to make Cuban women full partners in Cuba’s future is in everyone’s interest.”

You’d think the administration would agree.  After all, President Obama released a statement for International Women’s Day saying “Empowering women isn’t just the right thing to do – it’s the smart thing to do.”

But smart wouldn’t describe U.S. policy toward Cuba.  As Dr. Cynthia McClintock at George Washington University says, “It’s a contradiction. Here’s a country which has been doing well at this (gender equality) but we don’t want to deal with it.”

After failing for so long, it’s time for the U.S. to engage with Cuba differently.  If policymakers accepted Cubans’ humanity and ran U.S. foreign policy accordingly, we could support women, start repairing our relations with Cuba, and remove an irritant that has long divided us from the region.   That is why we hope Congress and the Executive Branch really pay attention to what we report and recommend.

Happy International Women’s Day.

“Women’s Work: Gender Equality in Cuba and the Role of Women Building Cuba’s Future” now available on Kindle in English and Spanish!


Cubans mourn death of Chávez  Doctors to remain in Venezuela

Hundreds of thousands of Cubans are visiting memorials around the country to honor Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez, who died Tuesday after a long battle with cancer, reports the Havana Times. President Raúl Castro joined over 50 world leaders in Caracas for Chávez’s funeral, during which the military fired a 21-gun salute at the entrance of the port of Havana, reports the Global Post. The nation declared seven days of mourning and the state newspaper Granma has been printing in only black ink, instead of its usual black and red, since Wednesday.

President Chávez was an important ally to Cuba, both ideologically and economically. He was a close friend and mentee of former president Fidel Castro, and an advocate of regional integration through such bodies as ALBA and CELAC. Under a cooperative agreement, Venezuela sends Cuba 115,000 barrels of oil per day and, in exchange, Cuban coaches, technicians and some 44,000 doctors provide their skills in Venezuela.

Cuba will continue to offer humanitarian services in Venezuela, as “homage” to the late President Hugo Chávez, Havana Times reports. An official statement from Cuba’s government, published in Granma, said that Cubans “will continue to serve the Bolivarian people with honor and altruism throughout this ordeal.”

“I don’t think that if there is a change of government in Caracas, that it will abruptly sever the economic relations that Cuba has with Venezuela,” Omar Everleny Pérez, of the Center for the Study of the Cuban Economy at the University of Havana, told AFP. However, dissident economist Oscar Espinosa Chepe says that Chávez’s death could force Cuba’s government to accelerate the reforms recently undertaken. He said, “It will have to exercise maximum flexibility in its rules and provide security to outside investors, because the country has no capital resources to invest.”

Netherlands hands Cuba first loss of WBC

Despite beating two-time champions Japan, and besting Brazil and China to finish the first round of the World Baseball Classic undefeated, Cuba lost to the Netherlands in the opening game of the tournament’s second round, reports USA Today. Cuba will next take on Chinese Taipei this Saturday (Tokyo time) and must win in order to advance to the finals in San Francisco.


U.S. State Department praises Cuba’s counter-narcotics efforts

“Despite being located along major drug trafficking routes to the U.S. market, Cuba is not a major consumer, producer, or transit point of illicit narcotics,” declares the U.S. State Department in its 2013 International Narcotics Control Strategy Report. “Cuba’s intensive security presence and bilateral interdiction efforts have effectively reduced the available supply of narcotics on the island and prevented traffickers from establishing a foothold.”

The report highlights the professionalism of Cuba’s law enforcement officials and the effectiveness of the “Ministry of Interior-led multi-agency counter-narcotics strategy,” Operation Hatchet. It also praises Cuba’s “significant level of cooperation” with U.S. anti-drug efforts facilitated by a United States Coast Guard Drug Interdiction Specialist stationed at the U.S. Interests Section (USINT) in Havana, as well as its drug prevention and rehabilitation programs.

Shipping company fined for violating embargo

The U.S. Treasury Department’s Office of Foreign Assets Control (OFAC) fined Texas-based Eagle Global Logistics for violating the embargo against Cuba, reports Café Fuerte. The fine of $139,650 is punishment for servicing 280 maritime shipments to and from Cuba between 2005 and 2008. This is the second major violation of the embargo reported by OFAC in less than a month; last week, we reported that the California-based scrap metal company Tung Tai Group was fined $44,000 for violation of Cuba sanctions.

Members of Congress support Cuba’s removal from the State Sponsors of Terrorism list

Congressman Jim McGovern took part in a panel this week discussing the removal of Cuba from the State Sponsors of Terror list, reports El País. He said many Members of Congress are encouraging President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry to create an opening in relations with Cuba. If a secret vote were held among Members regarding Cuba’s inclusion on the list, he added, the support for its removal would be overwhelming.

The panel was organized by the Latin American Working Group, the Center for International Policy, and the Washington Office on Latin America. Other panelists were Wayne Smith, head of the U.S. Interests Section in Cuba under President Jimmy Carter; Ambassador Anthony Quainton, former State Department official who was involved in putting Cuba on the list; Attorney Robert Muse, who specializes in “state sponsor of terrorism” designations; Adam Isacson, a Senior Associate at the Washington Office on Latin America who follows Colombia’s peace process and Cuba’s role in it; and Ana Garcia Chichester, a Cuban-American professor at Mary Washington University.


Wholesale market to open in Cuba

Cuba’s government announced the launch of the island’s first wholesale market open to state enterprises, cooperatives and independent businesses, reports AFP. According to the Official Gazette, the market is experimental, and is located on Isla de la Juventud – or Isle of Youth – 80 miles south of Havana. Food products, consumer and industrial goods are sold at the market, marking the first time that products are available at wholesale prices for Cubans running businesses in the private sector.

Following the opening and subsequent growth of Cuba’s private sector in October 2010, self-employed Cubans, or cuentapropistas, have often lamented the difficulty of buying products necessary for their businesses. They have had to make purchases at higher-priced retail shops, which many times would run out of the goods they sought. Cuba has reported that some 400,000 Cubans are now working in the 181 categories of legal private business; a list that includes restaurants, bed-and-breakfasts, beauty salons, and repair shops.

Ángel Carromero speaks on car crash that killed Oswaldo Payá, Harold Cepero

The Washington Post  has interviewed Ángel Carromero, driver in the accident that killed Oswaldo Payá and Harold Cepero in July of last year, about the crash and his imprisonment in Cuba before returning to Spain through an agreement between the two nations.

Payá and Cepero were critics of Cuba’s government, and their death was followed by speculation that the crash was not an accident. In the interview, Carromero says that his car was being followed the entire way from Havana to Varadero by a vehicle with government license plates. According to Carromero, their car was rammed by a government vehicle, at which point he lost consciousness and was taken to the hospital, and that his memories after that are unclear.  He says he was then taken to a jail in Bayamó, where he was drugged and gave a statement that was heavily influenced by the authorities who told him what to say.

In response to the interview, José Manuel García-Margallo, the Spanish Foreign Minister, said that the Spanish government has “no evidence” that things happened differently than Carromero said during his trial in Cuba, and urged him to go to court if he had new evidence in the case, reports the Havana Times.

Offices of the Historian and the Curator of Heritage Cities created in Cuba

By agreement of the Council of State, Cuba has created a network of Offices of the Historian and the Curator for heritage cities in Cuba, reports Prensa Latina. The group will be chaired by the Office of the Historian of Havana. The creation of the office was announced in Cuba’s Official Gazette, which said that the network will seek to preserve the historical legacy of Cuba from knowledge sharing in the area of urban renewal and heritage restoration, reports the Havana Times.

Cuba’s government warns against jaywalking

State newspaper Juventud Rebelde has published an advisory against jaywalking, reports the Washington Post. The full-page spread entitled “Lethal imprudence” warns citizens of the dangers of jaywalking and reports that 1,300 pedestrians are hit by cars a year on the island, with one in seven being fatal. Jaywalking is notorious bad in Cuba. One resident, Maria Rubio, states: “Here there is no custom of using the crosswalk…We simply cross wherever we are.”

Around the Region

Hugo Chávez passes away at 58

Diosdado Cabello, president of the National Assembly, has announced that Nicolás Maduro will be sworn in as interim President of the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela on Friday evening, just hours after the funeral service for President Hugo Chávez Frías, who succumbed to cancer on Tuesday after a nearly two-year battle, reports Telesur. Thirty heads of state and at least 20 more government delegations attended the funeral. The U.S. was represented by Congressman Gregory Meeks (NY-5) and former Representative William Delahunt reports Huffington Post; Reverend Jesse Jackson offered a prayer during to the service.

Hundreds of thousands of “Chavistas” accompanied the president’s coffin on Wednesday, walking the 8 km route through the streets of Caracas, from the hospital to the military academy where he taught history many years ago. There he lies in state as a steady stream of citizens bid him farewell, reports AFP, some waiting as long as 10 hours in line, according to VOA.

Chávez’s body will eventually be embalmed and encased in a glass “so it can be seen for eternity,” said Maduro. It will be moved to the “Mountain Barracks,” from which Chávez staged a failed coup attempt in 1992. Located in the Chávez stronghold neighborhood of “23 de enero,” the cuartel will be converted into the Museum of the Bolivarian Revolution, reports El-Nacional. However, many expect Chávez’s final resting place to be at the National Pantheon in Caracas along with Simon Bolívar. The constitution stipulates that a political figure can only be interred at the pantheon 25 years after death, explains Clarín.

Former U.S. President Carter, whose Center has monitored elections in Venezuela, expressed his condolences in a statement recognizing Chávez’s success in cutting the poverty rate in Venezuela by half. New York Congressman José Serrano, whose district has for many years received discounted heating oil from Venezuela, reminisced about Chávez, who he says, “Changed the Conversation In Latin America.” Actor Sean Penn told the The Hollywood Reporter, “The people of the United States lost a friend it never knew it had. And poor people around the world lost a champion.”

Brazil’s former President Lula da Silva authored a heartfelt piece in the The New York Times, in which he states,

The multilateral institutions Mr. Chávez helped create will also help ensure the consecration of South American unity. He will no longer be present at South American summit meetings, but his ideals, and the Venezuelan government, will continue to be represented. Democratic camaraderie among the leaders of Latin America and the Caribbean is the best guarantee of the political, economic, social and cultural unity that our peoples want and need. In moving toward unity, we are at a point of no return. ”

As stipulated in Venezuela’s constitution, elections will be held within 30 days. Nicolás Maduro’s campaign has already begun. It is expected that Henrique Capriles, who lost to Chávez just months ago, will take another shot at a candidacy, according to Reuters. Capriles, who traveled to the U.S. last week, has remained calm and respectful saying, “”Do not be afraid, or anxious … Among us all, we will guarantee the peace this dear fatherland deserves.”

Caracas Connect: The Chávez Legacy, Dr. Dan Hellinger, Center for Democracy in the Americas

Dr. Dan Hellinger offers a thoughtful reflection on the legacy of Hugo Chávez, highlighting the impacts of his efforts in Venezuela and around the world. Looking ahead, he predicts that Vice President Maduro will handily win the snap elections, but that “the greater challenge facing the Bolivarian Revolution is consolidating the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV). That party must now develop the institutional capability to choose candidates and leaders, formulate programs, and resolve internal conflicts” without Chávez. This is not impossible, Dr. Hellinger, writes, for “the experience of Peronism in Argentina is proof.” More commentary can be found on NPR’s Tell Me More.

If you would like to receive Caracas Connect updates via email, please write to: CaracasConnect@democracyinamericas.org.

El Salvador Update: February 2013, Linda Garrett, Center for Democracy in the Americas

Linda Garrett, CDA’s senior policy analyst on El Salvador, discusses new political developments within the ARENA party in in the lead-up to next year’s presidential elections, as well as the advances seen in the county’s ongoing gang truce. A month-long chronology of the gang-truce is included, as well as a map of municipalities participating in the “violence-free-municipalities” initiative, which will be updated each month.

If you would like to receive the Monthly El Salvador Update via email, please write to: ElSalvadorUpdate@democracyinamericas.org.

Recommended Reading

In Cuba, Equality is Two-Sided, Luisita López Torregrosa, The New York Times

Coinciding with the release of CDA’s report,  “Women’s Work: Gender Equality in Cuba and the role of Women Building Cuba’s Future,” Director Sarah Stephens sat down with Luisita López Torregrosa of the International Herald Tribune for an interview. The article features a discussion about gender equality in Cuba, in addition to the realities Cuban women encounter every day in their lives.

Women’s Work and a note on Hugo Chávez, Emma Stodder, Center for Democracy in the Americas

CDA’s first Stephen M. Rivers Intern, Emma Stodder, reflects on participating in the publication of the Center’s new book, and on the death of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez.

After Chávez, a Chance to Rethink Relations with Cuba, Robert E. White, The New York Times

Robert E. White, a former U.S. Ambassador to Paraguay and El Salvador, supports a revised American strategy toward Cuba and the Hemisphere. With the death of Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez and the reelection of President Obama, White argues that now is the time to “reassess the irrational hold on our imaginations that Fidel Castro has exerted for five decades.”

In South Bronx, memories of Chávez and the aid he gave, Frances Robles, The New York Times

Frances Robles of the New York Times returns to the South Bronx, a neighborhood President Hugo Chávez visited in 2005. Despite the fact that donations to community projects from Venezuela are now “in tatters,” residents continue to fondly recall the memories of Chávez’s visit as he met with ordinary citizens, listened to their tribulations and would quote “a poet, artist, politician or historical figure from Panama, Mexico, the Dominican Republic or wherever the person was from.”

Requiem for a symbol, Armando Chaguaceda, Havana Times

Armando Chaguaceda of the Havana Times writes an op-ed reflects on the death and legacy of President Hugo Chávez, in Venezuela and in Latin America. He notes that two days earlier, indigenous social activist Sabino Romero was murdered by hired assassins in his home state of Zulia. Romero, a Yukpa tribe member, frequently spoke out against the illegal seizure and usage of Yukpa ancestral land in the Perija Mountains by landowners, miners and coca growers. His struggle, one of many carried out alongside Chávez’s call for justice and equality, should not be forgotten in the aftermath of the President’s death.

Time is ripe for a new approach to Cuba, Michael D. Barnes, Baltimore Sun

Michael D. Barnes, a former Member of the U.S. House of Representatives, offers the case in the Baltimore Sun for engaging Cuba in a new, cooperative relationship. Noting the fact that about half of the Cuban-American vote went to Obama in 2012, Barnes sees this as an opportune time to change policy. With Secretary of State John Kerry taking the lead, Barnes envisions cooperation in energy, security and environmental protection.

Special Feature: Along the Malecón: Was the Senator Framed?”
Investigative journalist Tracey Eaton offers an update on developments in the controversy surrounding Senator Bob Menendez.

Around the World in 80 Days for Cuba’s Most Famous Dissident Blogger, Luisita López Torregrosa, International Herald Tribune

Luisita Lopez Torregrosa reports on dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez’s travels thus far, and the varied receptions she has received.

Recommended Viewing

Hugo Chávez Dead: Transformed Venezuela & Survived U.S.-backed coup, Now Leaves Legacy Behind, Democracy Now!

Democracy Now! offers news coverage and a roundtable discussion with: Miguel Tinker Salas, author of The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture, and Society in Venezuela; Eva Golinger, author of The Chávez Code: Cracking U.S. Intervention in Venezuela; Gregory Wilpert, founder of venezuelanalysis.com; Greg Grandin, author of Empire’s Workshop: Latin America, the United States, and the Rise of the New Imperialism and Michael Shifter, president of the Inter-American Dialogue.

Film screening: Unfinished Spaces, National Museum of Women in the Arts

Directors Alysa Nahmias and Benjamin Murray put together a history of Cuba’s ambitious National Art Schools project. The radical architecture of the complex reflected the visionary artists that designed it but, as construction went on, the political climate of the revolution led to a halt in construction. Even though the schools are still in use, much of the halted construction still remains unrealized.

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