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.

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

  • 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.

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

  • Democratic is the word you should be looking at for a solution to Cuba’s problems and those of the Untied Snakes as well.

  • Evidently you have a problem understanding sarcasm.
    The crazy right propaganda mill always accuses communists of loving Hitler’s book and, in essence, of being (right wing) fascists and I was playing on this.
    You needn’t have made my case for me.

  • IMO, in a democratic society in which the CDR is the first grass roots organization, it is the most important phase and no democratic society can exist without this type of neighborhood organization as a starting point.
    I may or may not know any Cubans ……as hard to find as they are here in south Florida but that has no bearing in a democratic process..
    In a democratic society the CDR would serve as the liaison between necessary government agencies and the local neighborhood when issues arose.
    The CDR person could look out for the elderly and ill in his/her area.
    Again, this would be in a democratic society and not, at present, Cuba, nor the USA.
    A difference would be that after normalizations between the warring empire and Cuba , Cuba already has the structure to implement an essential phase in establishing a true democratic socialist society while the USA will never have it under capitalism.
    You can have capitalism OR you can have democracy.
    You cannot have both.

  • That Castro read Mein Kampf is an established biographical fact, mentioned in several biographies. Try reading one some time.

    Fidel’s most famous line, “Condemn me. It’s doesn’t matter. History will absolve me”, which he declared in his trial in 1953 following his arrest for the Moncada terrorist attack, was stolen directly from Hitler’s own speech during his trial for the Rathaus Putsch in 1923, “You may pronounce us guilty. But the goddess of the eternal court of history will absolve us.”,+%22history+will+absolve+me%22&source=bl&ots=48lnGGb_T3&sig=f-ApJm3GJUM_O1ewGz8bVJ20CXY&hl=en&sa=X&ved=0ahUKEwi5i8LBnorKAhWCGh4KHbfLD-AQ6AEIOTAF#v=onepage&q=hitler%2C%20%22history%20will%20absolve%20me%22&f=false

    That the Cuban CDR is based upon the Nazi community watch model is also established historical fact. Many Stasi officers were recruited direct from the Nazi SS. The Russian recognized talent for ruthless police work when they saw it.

    As for living with aliens and dining on fetuses, I’ll leave those matters to your recognized expertise.

  • That East Germany helped train the Cuban security apparatus is well documented.

  • “The CDRs would be very good in a democratic society” ….Except that the reason behind the CDRs is not democratic. The CDR was created as a way for the government to keep tabs on its citizens. It can more correctly be called a neighborhood snitch society. Just ask any Cuban. ….any Cuban. Oh i forget, you don’t know any.

  • Fidel Castro actually slept with a copy of “Main Kampf” under his pillow
    so that Nazi link is there for sure. All communists are crypto-fascists . We all know that.
    There are also reliable reports that aliens are keeping him alive by feeding him aborted fetuses so that he can attain the Guinness World’s Record for “Dictator Longevity”
    Hey, I can make up better and crazier and more believable stuff than you can ANY DAY.
    Do you have any clue as to how hackneyed and crazy your old Cold War rhetoric sounds ?
    Try spouting that crap in a UNIVERSITY class..

  • Irina,
    Thank you so much for the look inside a CDR .
    The CDRs would be very good in a democratic society in which the CD s would be the first phase in the Poder Popular electoral process that works from the bottom -up .
    In Cuba the government under the existential attack that is the 54 year U.S. economic embargo has become distorted and totalitarian: Leninist; and the neighborhood groups that meet at the CDR sessions have no real power to effect change . The people know it and so rightly reject the meetings and the CDR idea as useless .
    If and when the embargo is gone and things normalize the Cuban leadership will have the opportunity to democratize the government and society utilizing the letter if Poder Popular which is excellent on paper for a truly democratic electoral system.
    Whether they take and use that opportunity cannot be determined now.

  • The Stasi helped set up the CDR system in Cuba, but the original model came from the Nazis. With some 80,000 CDRs, there is at least one unit per 140 people in Cuba. The tentacles of the state are wide and deep, inculcating fear and distrust into society. The purpose of the CDR is to atomize society, break it down into powerless fragments, naked & alone before the all powerful State.

    May 2016 see the end of this evil, inhuman dictatorship which has plagued Cuba for 56 years.

  • As told to me by my good friend and owner of the casa particular where I always stay when I am in Havana, her CDR must provide a letter of recommendation that accompanies her request to renew her Casa particular license. Her son needs a letter from the CDR to attend the University of Havana next year. This fricken organization, however worthless they really are, can still f*ck things up in the lives of the Cubans whom they represent. She sucks up to the old bitty who lives on the other end of her block because she has to.

  • George, you may be on to something, although I would choose a less-exotic, more secular, name. But a ‘Neighborhood Committee’ could be a good idea. (The observation of the founder of the Salvation Army comes to mind: ‘Why should the Devil have all the good tunes?’ (And the people who staff the CDRs are not the Devil.)

    But one thought: I can imagine that for many young Cubans, the CDRs are a pain in the neck. But … consider that to older people, or to some of them, they are not. Don’t be afraid to compromise on words. Its functions, not names, that are critical.

    And: it would be a pity, and would make the task of broadening and refining the CDRs much harder, if the new generation made it sound like there was NOTHING in the Revolution it wanted to defend. In other words, don’t propose, in effect, Committees for Dismantling the Revolution.

  • I am a canadian married to a cuban woman and above all feelings the cubans have ,is the feeling of fear.recently my daughter visited me from new york and she wanted to interview a top rated band in thier studio but the owner of the studio declined because she was an american and he did not want to “get into trouble”…fear!!what a feeling to live with.!!!

  • The CDRs were set up with the assistance of the East German Stasi. As such they are a fraud and the way to put them out of their misery is silent, sustained non-cooperation with them. Once they become ineffectual then the Party will be an edifice without a foundation.

  • Irina you are a brave and courageous person and an excellant writer/journalist

  • How sad… very very sad…..que lastima Que lastima muchissimo

  • The CDR needs to be replaced with a Spiritual Dialectic Committee (SDC) to supervise and educate the people in handling alien interactions. The most spiritually developed, usually an old person though some youngsters are old beyond their years, should chair the meetings and people should be able to voice their concerns about how they are expressing themselves. Material conditions can be dealt with directly by the people along the lines of participatory budgeting, pero this step can only be achieved if the people are spiritually strong. As a first question for the Havana Times SDC, is “strong” the right word?

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