HAVANA TIMES — A new congress of Cuba’s Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) is nearing and winds of change seem to be coming with it. Such change would be a positive sign, an indication that Cuban authorities are beginning to acknowledge that something in this organization isn’t working too well.
I suspect, however, that this is something of a bluff. The way I see it, we need to do more than recognize “our mistakes” in order to overcome the crisis currently faced by the CDRs – we need to re-think the very foundations of the Committees.
Why do I say this? Because there are basic problems in the way this organization works, and these problems have turned it into something unwieldy and obsolete. The vast majority of people no longer feel they belong in the organization and no longer see it as a tool they can use to solve problems in their communities.
Perhaps this is because the Committees have become eminently political in nature, mechanisms used to control and exert pressure on any individuals over fourteen, and this fact has become increasingly harder to conceal.
Though no law I know of makes membership mandatory, belonging to a committee is practically a must, and the pressures that are brought to bear on anyone who wishes to remain outside of these are quite intense.
The CDRs have a say in housing-related matters, applications for new jobs, and legal and criminal proceedings. The chair of the CDR you belong to is the person who has the last word on these and other matters. These individuals all too often abuse the authority afforded them by their position to settle personal scores.
Once inside, there are a number of assigned tasks you need to fulfill in order to earn a favorable opinion from other members. To prove you’re a worthy CDR member, tantamount to proving you’re a “good person” in the community, you must participate in at least one neighborhood watch every month, recycle garbage, donate blood, attend all Committee parties and meetings and, most importantly, report any “crimes” you witness within the community.
In today’s Cuba, however, ethical and legal limits have become two rather distinct categories. Such practices as “getting by”, or, in plain language, stealing from the State, aren’t always necessarily understood as “crimes”. People thus generally opt to protect one another, because everyone relies on these “crimes” to make ends meet.
This is the reason the interests of the CDR often go in the opposite direction than those of its members, who fulfill the tasks assigned to them just to do what’s expected of them, not because they feel that the Committee is an effective tool for solving the community’s problems.
I am not suggesting that donating blood and preventing theft or breaking and entering in the community is wrong, not at all. It’s the centralized, inflexible and mandatory method with which this is carried out I am criticizing.
It is worth pointing out that, owing to the recent changes (in legal self-employment) that Cuba has seen in this area, the task of collecting recyclable garbage around the community has become rather superfluous.
One of the more serious problems that the CDR has as an institution is the fact that local Committees, and, consequently, CDR members, have very little say in decision-making processes.
Its hierarchical structure, with those at the top handing down instructions and those at the bottom blindly obeying or rejecting these instructions, makes for a highly mechanical way of doing things and only deepens the already exasperating automation of human beings.
Many problems that concern the community, and can be solved at meetings, never make it to the table because of this mechanical way of doing things.
State businesses, offices and utilities, which respond to the interests of the government, then act in ways that recall the behavior of the transnational corporations we criticize so much. This means, for instance, that the demands of an area like the one I live in, in dire need of government aid, filled with factories that produce nothing but pollution, fall on deaf ears.
I pointed all of these things out, and more, at the last meeting held by my CDR, not for the sake of disparaging the institution (of which I am an organizer), but from the position of a Cuban citizen who believes that the best way to solve a problem is to “roll up one’s sleeves” and knuckle down to hard work.
In short, I call for CDRs to serve the people, not the government, to act more as a tool used to benefit the community than as instruments used to cast away the enemies of the revolution. For, if the Cuban revolution is so strong and enjoys the support of the vast majority of the people, why should we be so afraid of a disenchanted minority?
If any of these issues were addressed at the 8th CDR Congress, I would be more than satisfied.