My Images of Cuba’s CDR Day Festivities

Daisy Valera

The national CDR headquarters.

HAVANA TIMES — It’s been nearly a week since the congress of Cuba’s Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) ended, but Fidel Castro continues to stare at us from the red and green banners designed for the occasion.

With the look of a petulant father to him, he appears to scold us, challenge us with his long finger, the one we’ve seen on Cuba’s Round Table program so often, vigorously tapping the table to emphasize a given point.

Cuban flags still hang, forsaken, from clotheslines and balconies, washed by the rains of the season.

Another CDR congress and anniversary came to an end this past 28th of September.

Havana’s neighborhoods filled with bonfire smoke, blaring raeggeton music and thick, dark stews flavored with pig-head meat prepared in sooty cauldrons.

Every CDR set up its small, miserable table-altar, sarcastic altars with stale cakes placed in the boxes used to sell the more expensive, hard-currency pastries, watered-down rum, cheap wine and a horribly sweet syrup-like drink. The assignation of State products did not improve this year.

I liked our 28th of September celebrations when I was a kid. The times in which CDR members threw eggs and tomatoes at doors and neighbors (as reprisals against those who chose to leave the country) were behind us. It was the 90s, and there wasn’t enough of anything to throw at people.

In the morning of CDR Day, the kids from the block would get together and split into two groups to go out and gather recyclable materials and vegetables. We would go around the Soviet-styled apartment buildings carrying bunches of plantains and crushed aluminum toothpaste tubes.

At noon, we would begin to “dress up” the neighborhood: we would cover up fences with fleshy palm leaves, make chains out of newspaper pages and hang up the bits of aluminum paper that people threw out after making lids for one-liter milk bottles.

Cuban flags in Havana.

The most thrilling time for us was when night fell, when we had to stand “guard”, something we translated into a game of hide-and-seek “with our uniforms on.”

We would stay awake until someone handed us a piece of paper we were supposed to take to school the next day, as proof of our “revolutionary vigilance and combativeness.”

I couldn’t say when the lively atmosphere that characterized these occasions began to fade away.

The fact of the matter is that people stopped going outside for a breath of fresh air and to converse with their neighbors on benches and sidewalks.

CDR meetings became less and less frequent. People stopped doing volunteer work on Sundays and the gardens in the neighborhood common areas were swallowed up by weeds.

This last 28th of September festivity was as lively as a funeral, a gathering that came to an end when the soap opera’s theme music began to be heard at 9.

The Congress was a desperate attempt at resurrecting an institution that is very much dead.

The toughness of everyday life in Cuba, governed by the maxim of “everyone to himself”, robs people of the energy needed to be “combative” or to undertake collective initiatives.

Government leaders speak of reducing social indiscipline and combating the proliferation of drugs. They call on people to donate blood and participate in sanitation and clean-up campaigns.

In the meantime, people listen to raeggeton music, watch unemployment rates go up and salaries remain frozen.

Something, however, has changed: now, the neighborhood watch formerly entrusted to CDR members is in the hands of those who look after Cuba’s new private businesses.

Daisy Valera

Daisy Valera:Soil scientist and blogger. I write from Mexico City, where Havana sometimes becomes so small that it disappears. However in others, the Cuban capital is a city so past and present that it steals your breath.

3 thoughts on “My Images of Cuba’s CDR Day Festivities

  • The CDR are indeed becoming less important all the time. People more and more tend to be willing to speak out and stand up to them. Independent workers also are freer than the people that need employment from the state. The CDR are equally unpopular, but stronger in terms of their impact on society in Oriente.
    The Cuban Stalinist system is indeed a rotting corpse, but that is a reason for joy rather than sadness. My fear is that the military elite around Raul that has seized all power eliminating Alarcon and his faction will do a second theft in Cuba by becoming rich oligarchs like Russia or corrupt repressive and millionaire elites like in China. Cubans deserve better: freedom and a fair deal.

  • When I was in Havana a couple of years ago I saw an office with a CDR sign on it and it struck me in no uncertain terms as a faded relic of a time that has passed in Cuba. This article confirms a suspicion I have had since I was last in Havana that the Cuban Revolution is like a rotting corpse. I have never been one of its cheerleaders but this makes me very sad because I am deeply pessimistic about what the future holds in Cuba.

  • The CDR is the first line in the Castro system of repression. Raul Castro made that very clear when he encouraged the CDR to find new “strategies against the dissidents”

    “Raúl Castro exige a los CDR nuevas ‘estrategias’ contra la disidencia”

    Copy with online translation here:

    It was set up with the help of the East German Stasi and is far from the “benign NGO” some Castro apologist desperately try to claim it is. It’s pervasive role in the life of people controlling access to food, education, work, housing, …. was set up to ensure direct and immediate control over the Cuban people.

    More on the CDR:
    “CDR first line in the totalitarian repression system in Cuba”

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