Cuban Singer Becomes Pioneer of #MeToo Movement on the Island

A Cuban artist, known as the “Goddess of Cuba,” has become a lightning rod for the #MeToo movement on the Caribbean island after publicly accusing a fellow musician of sexual assault.

Dianelys Alfonso, 38, alleged that José Luis Cortés, a renowned musician and bandleader, assaulted and raped her repeatedly during their yearslong relationship, the Associated Press (AP) reported. The two musicians worked together from 2003 to 2009 in one of Cuba’s best known bands, NG La Banda. They were romantically involved during much of that time.

Alfonso made the accusations in June on an internet video program with host Alex Otaola. She accused Cortés of beating her, raping her, and verbally abusing her during their relationship, behavior that continued after it ended. The alleged abuse stopped when Alfonso left the band during an Italian tour in 2009 and did not return to Cuba for another five years.

The allegations prompted widespread support from many Cubans, both on the island and abroad, according to the AP. About 500 Cuban artists and intellectuals have shown their support for Alfonso in an open letter on Facebook.

The 38-year-old is now being called the pioneer of the #MeToo movement in Cuba. Supporters flooded the internet with messages for Alfonso with the hashtags #IBelieveYouGoddess, #MeTooInCuba and #YouAreNotAlone. However, Alfonso has also received messages accusing her of being a liar and of ruining Cortés’ reputation for her benefit.

“I look at everything happening online and I’m really stunned,” Alfonso told the AP. “I can’t really understand what’s happening online. I’m just trying to keep getting professional psychological help to deal with everything that’s come at me for having told the truth.”

Cortés has not publicly addressed the accusations but he allegedly sent Alfonso a threatening text message after she went public, her attorney Deyni Terry told the AP. The singer reported the threat to police and she and her legal team are looking into whether they can file criminal charges against Cortés years after the alleged abuse occurred.

“Many victims wait years to say what happened and that complicates judicial action, especially in Cuba where many laws are outdated,” Terry said.

A 2016 national poll in Cuba revealed that approximately 27 percent of the 10,698 women surveyed have been mistreated or abused by a man in the last year. The poll, released in 2019, showed that just 4 percent of those women sought help for the abuse. Other statistics on sexual or physical violence against women in Cuba are not available, according to UN Women’s Global Database on Violence Against Women.

However, the lawyer noted that the response to Alfonso’s allegations showed attitudes on reporting violence against women is changing in Cuba. “People are being more daring, speaking out, talking about taboo topics,” she told the AP. “They’re taking risks and have more freedom to speak out.”

The Cuban government, grappling with new forms of activism after decades of claiming they can tackle any social ill, organized a campaign to raise awareness on domestic violence. According to the AP, the publicity campaign shared slogans including “You Are More” and “Evolve.”

The fact that Cubans on the island are able to comment on Alfonso’s case online is a new phenomenon altogether. The small island nation allowed its citizens full internet access for mobile phones in December 2018, according to The New York Times. Prior to that, Cubans only had access to state-run email accounts on their phones.

The New York Times noted that the communist country has been quickly expanding access to the internet after President Barack Obama and Cuban leader Raúl Castro restored full diplomatic relations between the US and Cuba in 2014. Cuba has continued to expand despite President Donald Trump’s diplomatic pullback.

UN Women rates Cuba as 68th in its gender inequality index, where a higher number reveals greater inequality between women and men in reproductive health, empowerment, and labor market participation. The country was evaluated as 27th most equitable in the organization’s global gender gap index rank, which benchmarks gender gaps on economic, political, education, and health criteria.

About the Author

Nicole Rojas is a breaking news writer for The North Star. She has published in various venues, including Newsweek, GlobalPost, IHS Jane’s Defence Weekly, and the Long Island Post. Nicole graduated from Boston University in 2012 with a degree in print journalism. She is an avid world traveler who recently explored Asia and Australia.