BY TETÉ PUEBLA
KOPPEL: How did the prejudices against women joining the labor force begin to break down?
PUEBLA: In the Sierra Maestra the work of incorporating women into schools and jobs was easier. Because the peasants had seen us with them there from the beginning. It was harder in other places; you have to keep in mind the low cultural level of the peasants before the revolution, the isolation and lack of access to education.
These prejudices were still strong a full decade after the revolution's victory.
In March 1969, on the order of the commander in chief, I was named director of the Guaicanamar Cattle Plan in Jaruco, in Havana province. He said he was putting me in charge to demonstrate that women could lead as well as men, to show that women could lead an agricultural project, that women could head up any front and carry out any task of the revolution. So Fidel took eight women who were directors of plansIsabel Rielo among themto show that women could also lead in agriculture. Part of our job was to get the peasant women there involved in work.
When Fidel took me to the Jaruco zone, the peasants there said they wouldn't work with me. She might be a captain, they said, but she's not working with me. "The commander might have brought you, but I still won't work with women."
But after I'd been there a month, the peasants were working with me. The fact that I worked the same as they did, during the day, the night, Saturdays, Sundays, and so on, gave them confidence, so they understood that I could be a farmer. I had to show that I was their equal, in order to demonstrate that women could do anything.
So women began to join the work in the fields there too. The party, the women's federation, the CDRs, and other organizations all played a role. And we opened over a dozen schools in that zone….
Women in defense
WATERS: You spoke earlier of how the Mariana Grajales Platoon was the forerunner of women's role in defense of the Cuban Revolution. How has this developed over the years?
PUEBLA: Women in Cuba have always been on the front line of the struggle. At Moncada we had Yeye [Haydee Santamaria] and Melba [Hernandez]. With the Granma and November 30, we had Celia, Vilma, and many other compañeras. There were many women comrades who were tortured and murdered.
From the beginning there were women in the Revolutionary Armed Forces. First they were simple soldiers, later sergeants. Those of us in the Mariana Grajales Platoon were the first officers. The ones who ended the war with officers' ranks stayed in the armed forces.
Today there's a women's regiment in the Border Guard Battalion at the Guantanamo U.S. naval base in Caimanera, commanded by Lt. Col. Victoria Arrauz Caraballo, who was named by the minister of the armed forces to be second in command of the Border Guard Battalion that guards that territory. There are women in all the military units. They're captains, majors, colonels. Women have also carried out internationalist missions. They went to Angola, to Ethiopia and elsewhere….
WATERS: The example of the women's combat unitsthe Mari- ana Grajales Platoon, the Women's Antiaircraft Regimentsexemplify the gains of the Cuban Revolution and the leadership's support for women's equality. In the United States we don't demand women's combat unitswe're opposed to anything that strengthens the imperialist armed forces!but we often point out that the formation of such units at different times in the course of the Cuban Revolution demonstrates what Cuba's socialist revolution has meant for women. In the U.S. armed forces there are no female combat units, and very few women in frontline combat posts.
PUEBLA: Here we won this right in the revolutionary war and then it continued in the tank units, in the artillery, in other units. Today there are military schools at the university level…. Women are present in all of these, both as teachers and as cadets in the various specialties. Women in the military advance to wherever their abilities take them.
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How Cubas support for Angolas liberation struggle began
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