Osmel Ramirez Alvarez
HAVANA TIMES – According to official statistics, Cuba’s Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) are the largest social organization in the country, with nearly 8 million members currently (out of a total population of 11.2 million), although they are more nominal than real. Yet, even as official bodies, publicly subordinated to the only Party in power, they are paraded before international organizations at events and visits as if they were civil society representatives.
The CDRs were founded by Fidel Castro on September 28, 1960, during a public ceremony that was held in front of the former Presidential Palace, which then became the Museum of the Revolution. This happened before the socialist nature of the political process in progress was announced, and it was presented as an organized way for the Cuban people to fight against US Imperialism, waging a nationalist war. However, they rather turned out to be a very effective way to void any impact or influence the national opposition had on society and to keep their activities under extreme surveillance.
It was a tumultuous time in our history, with great popular support. Ever since then, and for nearly six decades now, the CDR hasn’t exactly operated so as to protect the Revolution from a foreign enemy, but from its own people instead. This to stop the Cuban from daring to reject the Revolution. When we speak about the “Revolution”, we’re referring to the radical socialist system that the Cuban Communist Party imposed.
Because this radical socialism or Communism/Stalinism was the unexpected and undesired result of that victorious battle, supported by the majority of our people in the beginning. It was not to institute Soviet Communism, but for what it offered, the rescuing what had been stolen during Batista’s coup d’etat: democracy, which was guaranteed by the very progressive 1940 Constitution.
“A committee on every block,” became a reality and a great repressive tool in the Communist Party’s hands. Checking up on people’s lives, keeping an eye out for so-called “revolutionary behavior”, which might be real or fake, but this doesn’t matter as long as people obey the system.
I remember my dad being a CDR president when I was a young boy, and the local coordinator came one day, demanding that my father put up the names of neighbors who didn’t attend these meetings on the wall (in the bodega rations store). My father did this and two days later, all the poultry in our home, and there were a lot of them (!), were dead at dawn after having been poisoned. It was an anonymous reaction, a sign of the opposition a social group had towards the CDR and, as a result, the system.
That was back in the ‘80s. My father withdrew from that problematic and unpopular position, although he has never stopped believing in the Revolution. Like many of his generation, he finds it hard to accept the truth about what we have experienced and continue to experience. They’ve created a psychological bubble.
In reality, the CDRs stopped being what they were and the power of their calls was watered down with the revolutionary process’ own wear-and-tear, in the same way that totalitarian socialism stopped being a good option.
Today, they are just a shadow, a ghost that survives and lingers in municipal, provincial and national offices, of the hundreds of cadres who make a living by exaggerating figures on their reports and even win competitions against one another. Or in the old recordings by Sara Gonzalez or the new hits by Arnaldo y su Talisman, which are played two or three times on the radio or Tv, mainly during the days in the lead-up to the CDR anniversary.
And when you see a CDR working well or with lots of signs, it’s because there are people who want to stand out so they can go up the professional ladder and they need to come off as deeply committed. Even though there is a CDR on every block, with a president and all of their entourage, monthly meetings aren’t held, nor is CDR vigilance, raw materials aren’t collected either, nor do people do voluntary work. There are less and less blood donors every day and work on the ground isn’t being done in the fight against vectors.
The disdain is so widespread that even the Government has abandoned its dear CDRs. Before, over 20 years ago, even in the most dire Special Period, a collection of items were sold for the CDR party, at a reasonable price. Read here: meat for stew and drinks as well as a cake. All of this came to an end and the little that is sold to them, sells for the same high store prices, without bearing in mind the fact that ordinary people have no privileges unlike the military or cadres, who continue to enjoy cheap prices as a means to incentivize them.
All of this has meant that the traditional stew (which in spite of being around for 60 years, is still not a tradition) has been absent or unpopular. Except for the half-dozen elderly Communists or boisterous people who like these events.
Please forgive the lack of photos or comments about the CDR stew party in my neighborhood, because there wasn’t one (just like other years past). Not even in its surrounding areas. You can only see a few on the TV, as part of the government’s propaganda.