IF there’s one thing that can be said about the Cuban Revolution, it is that the will, creative spirit, abounding strength and tenderness of women have been present on every battle front.
For Cuban women, anything is possible. They have proudly taken on the most ambitious challenges, never flailing, never faltering, as they continue to show that they can achieve the best results in every task they undertake.
The recent constitution of new Provincial Assemblies of People’s Power showed that Cuban women are worthy of the respect, love, and trust of their fellow citizens, with exceptional individuals elected to head these government bodies in eight of the country’s provinces.
The teacher – President of La Majasera
Born and raised in rural Najasa and Jimaguayú, Isabel González Cárdenas states that she is still the “same old country girl, as the saying goes, right there with her head pressed against the belly of a cow, in a place surrounded by good, grateful people who mark a person for life.”
This is how Isabel remembers the community of La Majasera, some 25 kilometers from the provincial capital, where she was recently sworn in to serve her second term as President of the Provincial Assembly of People’s Power in Camagüey; the same community to which she returned after graduating, to begin working as a teacher at a small rural school: “There,” she states “I grew both as a professional and a human being.”
It was the love and respect she earned from her students, their parents, and campesinos that saw her elected constituency delegate at 19 years of age.
Since then she has served as a trade union leader; vice president and president of the Municipal Assembly of People’s Power in Jimaguayú; administrative council secretary; and vice president and president of the Provincial Assembly.
However, according to Isabel, teaching still forms the basis of her daily work. “You’re teaching everyday in this job, first and foremost, through your personal example. I always say that what cannot be lost in this work is understanding, communication, treating people with respect. This is the essence of People’s Power: we are public servants and must carry out our work to a high standard.”
“Isabelita,” as she is also known, is well versed in the challenges facing Camagüey’s People’s Power Assembly, and committed to solving them.
“We must inject the government’s work with new life and more dynamism, in order to create closer ties with the people in their communities. We must continue to build on the experience gained in the months following Hurricane Irma. In order to do so, it is vital to strengthen joint efforts including all structures, to address the population’s concerns.”
There are two other women serving alongside Isabel on the Provincial Assembly, something which the president, and the revolutionary she is, knows is no mere coincidence.
“I believe it is the result of the teachings of Fidel, who together with Raúl and Vilma, always promoted the role of women in society.”
A fighting woman leads Cienfuegos
Mayrelis Pernía Cordero, president of the Provincial Assembly of People’s Power in Cienfuegos, started her secondary education at the Vocational High School in Santa Clara in 1982. She practiced combat sports, karate, with excellent results.
She likes to read, but hasn't had much time to do so since she first assumed the responsibility in 2011.
Recently re-elected, Mayrelis starts her day early every morning and sometimes doesn’t finish until past 9pm. She works practically the whole year round with almost no weekends off. Nonetheless, she states, whenever she can, she makes time for her family, her great motivation in life.
Cordero explains that she would like to do many things but simply doesn’t have the time. However, the 47 year old thermoelectric engineer with a Masters in Management also notes, “I enjoy nothing better than serving the people. I love it when someone on the street recognizes you and congratulates you on your job, for having solved a problem.”
According to Mayrelis the greatest challenges of being a People’s Power President include “continuing to look for solutions to the population’s concerns and contribute, with my team, to improving People’s Power bodies. This is our greatest challenge, to ensure that our work is more efficient and that these bodies continue to gain credibility among the people, and strengthen the role and work of delegates with their constituents, because delegates represent the foundations of our political system.”
Regarding April 19, the People’s Power president believes that “it will be an assembly indicative of the times. There, the great work, the extraordinary work and enormous commitment of our Revolution’s historic leadership, will be recognized. I hope that all of us will know how to choose wisely the Council of State leadership with new, capable and willing compañeros, who will guide our country.”
Tania’s greatest inspiration
The President of the Assembly of People’s Power in Matanzas is a friendly and creative woman from a humble background, and passionate about what she does. At first glance, one notices her imposing stature and physical strength, however, looks can be deceiving. Get to know her a bit better and you realize that she is an affectionate individual with an almost familial air. This woman is Tania León Silveira, born in Colón and raised in Calimete on a farm called La Cana. An agrochemical engineer by profession, Silveira worked in the agricultural sector for many years and was a leading member of the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC). She has been a member of the Council of State and Deputy to the National Assembly of People’s Power since 1993 and was recently reelected president of the Provincial Assembly of People’s Power, a position she has held since 2011.
“The most important thing is one’s work ethic and the determination to carry out constructive actions and other organizational tasks, in order to show the city’s best qualities on its 325th anniversary. The celebration is just a pretext, a starting point from which to continue the comprehensive development of the city, a task which requires greater participation from the people.
“These are particularly important times in which government bodies must be improved in order to strengthen our socialism and achieve economic sustainability. We must assume the task of correctly interpreting each one of the guidelines and work objectives outlined by the Party and implement them in a creative way within the province.
“We have an important role in the day-to-day work. The aim, as Vilma showed us, is for women to lend all their strength to the service of the Revolution.”
As for Fidel she noted: “I got very close to him on various occasions, we didn’t get the chance to speak but I felt the power of his words and image. It was almost as if we had been talking directly to one another all the time. This is why I have no regrets, his legacy and ideas are my greatest inspiration.”
The job and the Revolution first
Teresita Romero didn’t know where to start when she awoke on Saturday September 9, 2017, to what was left of Yaguajay, following Hurricane Irma.
Over the last seven years as President of the Provincial Assembly of People’s Power in Sancti Spíritus, Teresita has been witness to several severe weather events in the territory, including the extraordinary storm of May 2012, which threatened to burst the Zaza reservoir. The September 9 hurricane however, was unprecedented.
“I believe the impossible is possible,” she states six months later, “but only if we organize the work properly, if we are able to convince the people, motivate them, set priorities, review everything meticulously. Yaguajay showed that when we work together in an organized fashion, we can achieve our goals.”
An economist, deputy to the National Assembly of People’s Power during its Eighth legislature and recently reelected to the ninth, Teresita states that everything that has been achieved in the province has not been the result of her efforts alone, but of the collective contribution of many, including her partner and family who “understand and support me.”
Beyond her Economics Degree, Masters in Finance, and time at the Higher School of State and Government Cadres, the president of the Provincial Assembly of People’s Power in Sancti Spíritus, reelected last March 25 for her second five-year term, believes that there is something to be learned every day, whether it be by reading regulatory documents, the news, or a good book, “because in order to do this job, you’ve got to be constantly be up to date.”
Teresita also highlighted the many difficult decisions she has made in her time as a government official.
“We are very demanding; unfortunately we have had to make these kinds of decisions, we have had to sanction cadres, cadres who have been struggling, working, alongside us, but who have committed certain transgressions, because the job and the Revolution come first.”
Staying close to the people is what's most important
Arelys Casañola Quintana remembers well the smell of sugar cane. She was born in Colón, Matanzas, but not in the city, not the one everyone imagines when they hear the name, but rather on a little farm, outside the town of Guareiras. Her origins were humble, like those of her parents, to whom the Revolution gave the land they worked, where they learned to make a cane field productive.
"Discipline, modesty, formal education, respect for the family and elders," were the values she learned at home, as the second of six siblings. But her training as a Mathematics teacher, she says, was decisive, where she developed the gift teaching offers of interacting and listening to people.
"My day always begins at 5:30am. It's a country habit - helps you take advantage of time - and rarely do we finish work before 10:00pm. The Isla is different from the rest of the country, we have to stay alert to transportation, the flights, the catamaran… if the cargo came in or not… of the people always waiting to convey their suggestions, concerns, criticism to us," explains the President of the Isle of Youth's Municipal Assembly of People's Power.
Now beginning her third term leading the Special Municipality, and her fourth as a constituency delegate, she can say without hesitation that this is an enriching experience.
"Staying close to the people is what's most important in this work," she says, "You have to carry the area on your shoulders, but staying who you are, that is the foundation of the confidence."
Leading Santiago: The honor of a lifetime
The community of Asunción, in Santiago de Cuba, whose irregular landscape is home to a hard working, humble and diverse population, is the place that saw Beatriz Johnson Urrutia grow; from her time in elementary school through to the University of Oriente, and working at the José Mercerón cement factory, to President of the Provincial Assembly of People’s Power.
“I’m proud of this experience,” states the first woman to take the reins of government in this emblematic province, “because my parents, siblings, relations, and friends, were all born here, where there’s always a smile to brighten your day.”
Star pupil throughout her educational life, good friend, book lover and customary face at the cultural nights on Heredia Street, Beatriz always dreamed of being an engineer. After graduating she was placed at the Santiago cement factory for practical training, an opportunity for which she is truly thankful, where she worked her way up to a management position.
“By then, I’d been serving as a government special reserve for a while, then I was elected vice president of the Provincial Assembly of People’s Power, a position I held for almost five years, before I was promoted to President.”
For Beatriz the day starts at 4:30am and doesn’t end until after 11pm.
“To lead Santiago,” explains the Party Central Committee member, “you have to know the city well, share the idiosyncrasies, desires, and many qualities of its residents.”
“We will never forget our honorable mission to defend the Heroic City of all Cubans and to guard, on behalf of the homeland, the ashes of our Comandante en Jefe. More than a challenge, it is the honor of a lifetime. I never dreamed of being President,” she states, “and now the great task is to work every day to live up to Fidel’s legacy, and the trust placed in us by the Party, Raúl, and people of Santiago de Cuba.”
The people’s architect
Lilian González Rodríguez, is a busy woman so finding her in her office wasn’t easy. Currently serving her third term as President of the Provincial Assembly of People’s Power in Las Tunas, Rodríguez was born to a humble working class family which despite having few material possessions, never lacked principles or values.
“I’m grateful for everything my parents taught me. I’ve always liked to fulfill my dreams, make them reality. This is why I decided to study architecture. After graduating I worked as a planner as part of the first tourism development group. Later I moved to the Business department where I held other responsibilities, but it was after working in the Science and Technique department and everything I accomplished there, that people saw certain leadership qualities in me.”
Her next job was as vice president of the Provincial Administration Council responsible for construction. According to Rodríguez, it was in this role that she became the “people’s architect,” during an intense period of construction, which put her creativity to the test despite a lack of resources.
In 2010, given her various responsibilities within government and strong commitment, Rodríguez was elected President of the Provincial Assembly of People’s Power, a position to which she was recently reelected as well as being elected as a deputy to the National Assembly.
“It’s a tough challenge. We need to create more spaces for exchange and popular participation. This is vital in a thriving province such as ours and which has the difficult goal of developing itself using its own resources, efforts, and the ability of residents.”
Lilian holds something very close to hear heart, something that sparks in her boundless emotion, that something has a name: Fidel.
“Being Fidel means embodying his concept of Revolution every day. Fidel is a paradigm in every sense.”
My greatest desire: Contribute to creating a better Guantánamo
President of the Provincial Assembly of People’s Power in Guantánamo, PhD. Nancy Acosta Hernández, always gives special thanks for the education her parents gave her, when speaking about her life and work.
“My mother taught me and my siblings to love books, to read aloud, how to behave, how to help and serve others. My father, an agricultural worker, would come home almost every day with some small text, or story or something to color. This education was decisive to my decision to opt for a pedagogical career, so much so that I became a teacher and had the privilege of giving classes as a recent graduate in my very own elementary school.”
Born in the mountains of Puriales de Caujerí, in the municipality of San Antonio del Sur, as a young woman Nancy managed the Methodological Department at the Municipal Education Office before she was promoted to deputy director of teaching, then municipal director and a member of the first Administration Council at this level. Later she became deputy director of Education in the territory, then vice president and later president of the Provincial Assembly of People’s Power, to which she was recently reelected.
Asked about her approach to tackling the almost daily problems facing the government in Guantánamo, she notes the importance of “studying a lot, listening to the people, being connected to the various problems of daily life, without disregarding a single thing, because everything is a learning process from which we can learn many lessons.”
A tenured professor, Nancy Acosta Hernández, is an example of an individual committed to development and personal, political, administrative, and professional growth, aspects which she has masterfully combined with raising a daughter, caring for grandchildren and her family in general, which “I have achieved through effective planning and the support of my spouse, and siblings.
“My greatest wish,” she notes, “is to contribute to creating a better Guantánamo, with discipline, beauty, order, and prosperity, goals which require hard work to achieve.”
With the support of women and the youth
Tamara Valido Benítez is a woman, and proud to be so. Guided by the principle of equality she has taken on life’s challenges, from earning a Law Degree, to serving as President of the Provincial Assembly of People’s Power in Mayabeque since 2011.
At 47 years of age, Tamara was recently reelected to this position and is fully aware of what it has taken to get there.
“To talk about the challenges that women still face in society, we must first talk about Fidel, Vilma and Raúl and all their efforts to ensure our true insertion in all spheres of life in the country. An area in which People’s Power is advancing.
“My mother, for example, was a homemaker, but the Revolution has constantly worked so that the new generations are the complete opposite and actively participate in the construction of society. This driving force and Raúl’s trust in us, strengthens our commitment and makes us believe that all tasks can be achieved, no matter how difficult.
“The most important thing to be able to take on this, or any other task, is having the support of your family. In order to undertake this mission, and this applies to men as well, you must also have a strong will and never give up when obstacles appear.
“However, I feel that women, in this province at least, still face barriers in the family sphere when it comes to taking on responsibilities. We must also continue combating and stop all forms of violence against women. With the support of women and youth, should be our maxim…”
As José Martí would say, it is women, who struggle and create, who make the Revolution invincible. It is these women, who represent the modern-day embodiment of Mariana Grajales, Mother of the Homeland, and have proudly chosen the noblest path, where the greatest reward for one’s sacrifice is the satisfaction of fulfilling one’s daily duty.