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

  • 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.

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