Cuba’s CDR Committees: Bringing Back the Dead

Illustration by Onel
Illustration by Onel


Irina Echarry

HAVANA TIMES — There were no excuses: it wasn’t raining, people had been notified in advance, the meeting would be held before the sacred soap opera came on and the “visitors” would arrive early. We had only to wait until the clock showed 8 pm to start.

For two years now, none of the building’s tenants have wanted to become the chair of the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR). Put that way, it would seem we are seeing a form of popular resistance, an act of defiance against decadent organizations. Some might even think we are approaching the date in which Cubans (or at least those living on my block) decide to take the reins of their lives and send the “revolutionary” abominations they suffer straight to hell.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves, tis best not to allow ourselves to be deceived.

The blessed “visitors” were from the district Party office, that is to say, members of the Cuban Communist Party (PCC) who are retired and continue to offer services in their place of residence.

The PCC secretary made it clear at the very beginning that she wasn’t there of her own free will, that it was a duty she had to fulfil. “What we do is offer guidance and supervise, but, owing to the problem that a CDR without a head represents…”

Yes, I asked myself the same question: what is the Party doing trying to “solve” a problem faced by “genuine civil society”?*

The official continued in a very calm tone of voice: “If we don’t elect someone today, I’ll have the difficult task of reporting this, and it’ll be a shame, because, in the past, this building held very nice activities, had a pretty garden and people had enthusiasm.”

No one said a word.

Then, she pulled the oldest trick in the book, appealing to veteran CDR members: “Will no one step forward? If you elect a young person, so much the better, but it can also be an elderly person who knows the neighbors well, who knows each of their personalities. Will no one speak? Am I to believe no one has an opinion on this? The district coordinator, who lives in a different building, by the way, can’t continue chairing this CDR, that’s not her job. There are valuable people here, why won’t anyone say anything?”

It was true: there was deathly silence.

In view of this situation, other officials – only women spoke – took the floor to remind us that CDRs are “our way of life.” In an effort to offer something more substantial, they turned to the constitution: “Chapter 4 speaks of the importance and duties of the family.” Then, they invoked illustrious figures: “It’s no accident Jose de la Luz y Caballero said that one’s education begins at home, and home is where the family is, and families are part of the CDR, as are all neighbors.”

But people remained silent.

So, looking desperate, they took out the magic wand. While children are frightened straight with the “boogey man,” one word serves to horrify adults: “counterrevolutionary.”

Yes, this late in the game, people still jump up when they feel they are being accused of being counterrevolutionaries. I know it’s hard to believe, but it’s the truth.

The uncomfortable murmuring immediately began to be heard. An elderly woman from the old, CDR guard took the position. There was no vote. It didn’t matter whether people agreed with this or not, the meeting was adjourned.

There was applause. The word “dignity” caused a certain degree of euphoria among those present. “We don’t want anyone to come tell us what to do, we know how to do things well, and we’ll do them together. No one’s a counterrevolutionary here.”

I should clarify that the uproar wasn’t caused by any concrete fear. It wasn’t the fear of incurring the disfavor of others or receiving a poor assessment**, it was more along the lines of having one’s “honor besmirched.”

I love seeing the people I care for together, getting along without any conflicts, overcoming differences, sharing things, etc. However, it is pathetic that our union should be imposed on us by appealing to something as confusing and absurd as the CDR, a dying organization that fights tooth and nail to remain alive. No one believes the media when they tout the vitality of the organization and very few see any reason for it to exist at all, but there it is, still holding on to dear life in our neighborhoods.


* During the Summit of the Americas, the Cuban government defended the idea that the island’s CDRs and other grassroot organizations are part of a “genuine civil society.” If that were so, it would have no need of guidance or supervision from a Party.

** Some workplaces approach the CDR to confirm an applicant’s revolutionary credentials and social behavior. Many a time, getting the job depends on this process.

Irina Echarry

Irina Echarry: I enjoy reading, going to the movies and spending time with my friends. Many of the people I love are dead, or are no longer in Cuba. I will do my best to transmit my thoughts, ideas or worries via these pages so you can get to know me. I will give an idea of my age, since it helps explain certain things. I’m over thirty-five, and I think that’s enough information. I don’t have any children yet, or nieces or nephews. There are days when I transform myself into a child with no age at all in order to see life from another angle. It helps me break the monotony and survive in this strange world.

18 thoughts on “Cuba’s CDR Committees: Bringing Back the Dead

  • January 5, 2016 at 8:44 pm

    You make your own case every day John. You don’t need my help. You see, the trick to sarcasm, and perhaps you should write this down, is not to make yourself the butt of your own joke.

    Fidel read Hitler’s book. (It’s “Mein”, by the way, not “Main” as you spelled it.) That’s not a crazy right wing accusation. That’s an historical fact mentioned in several biographies and in commentaries by people who knew him back in the day. His famous quote was cribbed from Hitler’s speech at his own trial. That too has been noted by several historians.

    So when you attempted sarcasm about Fidel keeping “Main Kampf” under his bed, you revealed nothing more than your own ignorance. As for the creepy fetus & aliens thing, nobody here wants to know where in your psyche that came from.

  • January 4, 2016 at 11:57 pm

    So…. going to Cuba a tourist while wearing a CDR t-shirt might be a faux pas then? 🙂

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