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Cuba’s first #MeToo case causes feminist backlash and political embarrassment

The singer-songwriter Fernando Bécquer was sentenced to ‘limitation of freedom’ following a sexual abuse trial involving several women, only to be later jailed after mocking the victims in his lyrics

The troubadour Fernando Bécquer, in a file photo.
The troubadour Fernando Bécquer, in a file photo.RR. SS.

The first #MeToo case in Cuba has turned into a farcical soap opera, with political ramifications and an unexpected ending. The accused, a “revolutionary” folk singer-songwriter of questionable talent named Fernando Bécquer, was sentenced last October to five years of “limitation of freedom” for sexual abuse after being sued by several women, but avoided prison. The victims proved their case in a Havana court against the singer, who used the cover of Afro-Cuban spiritualism and bogus witchcraft to place psychological pressure on his victims and commit the abuse.

The scandal erupted on social media last year and forced the authorities to react to a case that began in December 2021, when five women publicly denounced the troubadour’s abuses in independent Cuban magazine El Estornudo, considered by the authorities to be an anti-Castroist outlet. This, together with Bécquer’s pro-government positions, led many to assume that the matter would be swept under the rug and kept out of the courts.

Bécquer denied the accusations and mounted his defense in terms of homeland or death. “I don’t believe anything, I only believe in the Revolution,” he answered when asked about the allegations. Some of his colleagues came out in his defense, but most remained silent given the scandalous nature of the case. The main cultural institutions and the powerful Federation of Cuban Women (FMC) followed suit, the latter positioning itself on the side of the victims but without much conviction and without mentioning Bécquer by name.

For several months, as if nothing had happened, Bécquer went on with his normal life, sharing the stage with other artists and even joking about the case in public while delivering his repertoire in bars, which included many songs containing misogynistic content. However, encouraged to speak out after the El Estornudo article, dozens more women joined the wave of complaints and laid out their experiences of abuse by Bécquer, who has already been baptized on Cuban social networks as the “trovabusador.”

The case grew louder and louder until what many thought would never happen came to pass: On October 18, Bécquer was brought to trial. At the hearing, numerous women besides the plaintiffs testified to suffering abuse by the singer-songwriter. The pattern of behavior was almost always the same. Bécquer searched among fans of the Nueva Trova musical scene for very young and vulnerable girls - some of whom were half his age - and offered them a spiritual consultation and a “cleansing,” a common practice in the Afro-Cuban religion of Santería. He would invite them to his house and, once there, under cover of his false witchcraft, he would pretend to shed light on their future and tell them that to satisfy the saint he was connected to, they should masturbate him, or let him masturbate in front of them, while they caressed him, in order to “cast out everything bad” through his semen. Apparently, Bécquer’s practices were well-known among troubadours, but many of his peers turned a blind eye.

The sentence for “lewd abuse” was announced weeks after the trial: five years of limitation of freedom, a subsidiary sanction of the Penal Code that allows the offender to avoid prison and complete a sentence in almost complete liberty. Limitation of freedom is only applicable in sentences not exceeding five years, and where “there are well-founded reasons to believe that the purpose of the sanction can be achieved without imprisonment.”

The sentence was harshly denounced on social media by feminist organizations and sectors critical of the government, who suggested Bécquer had been spared prison because of his political affiliation. Although the victims also expressed their disagreement over the sentence, they were satisfied that at least that the guilt of the “trovabusador” had been proven. And that appeared to be the end of the matter.

Following the trial Bécquer maintained a low profile and most observers assumed he was going to get off scot-free, until the case took an unexpected twist when the troubadour decided to publish the lyrics of two songs he was working on. In the first, he sings: “Yo quiero una feminista, pa calentarle la pista/ Pa revolcarme en su monte, pa que me grite machista [I want a feminist, so I can heat up her bun/ and roll around in her bush, so she can scream macho at me].” The second song, entitled Menéate con el negrón, alludes to “sad vaginas” and “broken orgasms.”

The backlash was swift. The FMC issued a statement in which it said Bécquer, “far from showing respect and repentance before justice, acts with total impunity.” Lis Cuesta, wife of Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel, said it is “impossible to tolerate insults, aggression and violent expressions against girls and women” and demanded “zero tolerance.” Bécquer immediately apologized to the FMC (but not to the victims), but by then it was too late. Two days later, the courts revoked the sentence of limitation of freedom and ordered Bécquer to be imprisoned for three years and four months, stating that the troubadour had committed “serious acts that violate, in a flagrant and notorious manner, the requirements of good conduct and respect for the norms of social coexistence, to which he was obliged”.

However, the matter still did not end there. The first Cuban #MeToo case has also had political consequences. It marks the first time that a complaint made through an independent magazine that the government considers “counterrevolutionary” has resulted in a judicial process, and with the supposed “revolutionary” ending up behind bars, an unprecedented occurrence in Cuba. It was also the first time that Cuban women had been able to lift the lid on abuses committed against them with such forcefulness. It has also become evident that Cuban society is increasingly claiming its rights with a more powerful voice.

After Bécquer’s imprisonment, the National Union of Writers and Artists of Cuba (UNEAC) announced that it was expelling the songwriter from its ranks. However, the question was raised on social networks: why did the institution not expel Bécquer as soon as the court issued its sentence? If he had not been imprisoned for his most recent lyrics, would he still be considered a member of UNEAC? Why did the FMC not openly condemn the sentence of limitation of freedom from the outset, instead of waiting until Bécquer caused political embarrassment to the government?

The prestigious Cuban actor Luís Alberto García summed it up on Facebook: “I hope that all those who used to put an arm around his shoulders, his supporters, and those who showed a lenient hand in condemning him with a laughable sentence now feel as guilty as he does. He has made them all look like asses.”

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