Cuba’s Divisive CDR Defense Committees

Rogelio Manuel Diaz Moreno

HAVANA TIMES — It is normal for Cuba’s official press to devote more articles to the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) during the month of September, as the anniversary of their creation is on the 28th of the month. For the occasion, CDR members organize a greater number of activities than they do the rest of the year. These tend to conclude with a nationwide festivity held on the night of the 27th to the 28th.

This brings to mind the fact that the CDRs are one of the topics that colleagues and friends from abroad have asked me about most often. Since I am not an expert on the subject, I reply with what little I know and what common sense tells me. It is clear to me that this institution is one of the distinctive elements of the history of the Cuban revolution, from the point of view of both its defenders and the opposition.

I have recommended to those who are interested in the subject to place the foundation of the CDRs within the context of the 1960s, when the class struggle had reached a peak in the country. Prior to 1959, a large part of Cuba’s bourgeoisie had distanced itself from Fulgencio Batista’s dictatorship in a timely fashion. It had even placed a number of influential representatives in the first versions of the new government (though these were removed shortly thereafter).

The State that took shape after 1959 became radicalized and implemented measures such as the Agrarian Reform, the nationalization of the means of production and others. An intense social struggle that included a fair degree of violence resulted. Those who stood to lose had obviously enough reasons – and the means and powerful foreign allies – to plan the violent overthrow of the budding system. US President Kennedy would later assume full responsibility for the failed Bay of Pigs invasion, and Secretary of State Mallory would justify aggression against Cuba as a mechanism aimed at creating poverty and despair and, ultimately, bringing about a change of heart in the population regarding their new government.

Quite a number of years still have to pass for us to be able to address the period with a clear head. The two opposing camps continue to accuse one another of all manner of atrocities. Ultimately, it is difficult to deny that bombings, acts of sabotage, arson and other forms of terrorism were common at the time, both in Havana and other cities and towns around Cuba. Faced with this situation, then Prime Minister Fidel Castro had the idea of creating an institution that would reach all corners of the country and that would gather and organize the supporters of the new system in this class struggle.

The CDRs were created within this violent context, with the aim of strengthening the government’s position in the struggle unleashed. It was a novel instrument in the history of revolutions that called themselves socialist. In fact, the Cuban revolution would officially declare itself socialist only seven months later.

Class warfare can be as cruel as any war. Supporters of the revolution insist that the surveillance and political activities carried out by the CDRs contributed to putting an end to violent actions, such as the placing of bombs and other activities that would be considered terrorism anywhere in the world. The opposition attack CDRs ruthlessly because of their persecution of the social classes that are against the revolutionary process.

The revolutionary government prevailed in this struggle in the long run: the bourgeoisie emigrated en masse and a rather uneasy peace was established little by little. At one point, the main efforts of CDRs were aimed primarily at common delinquency. People whom the government considered delinquents for ideological reasons were placed in the same category. The CDRs also broadened their field of action to address less military questions, such as garbage collection, public health campaigns and others.

Despite the unquestionable social usefulness of such measures and the fact that a broad majority participated in most of them, the structure of the CDRs did not encourage democratization or horizontality much. Instructions came down the same vertical mechanisms that operated elsewhere. The D in their acronym got stuck in the concept of defense and did not come to promote development, as some comrades at Observatorio Critico demanded in a sign carried during an independent rally.

People’s exhaustion and the endless economic difficulties faced by the majority have undermined the government’s rallying power, let alone that of the CDRs. I agree with most, who look at the institution as a club for old folks in the neighborhood. In fact, when one sees an activity organized by a CDR on television, one sees many more gray hairs than one would expect, owing to the aging of our population. No less important is the fact that the country’s economic difficulties have forced the majority of Cubans, CDR chairs included, to eventually become involved in illegal activities.

To be able to get by, nearly everyone has learned to turn a blind eye on such activities. Today, the CDR chair that is well-liked around the neighborhood is the one that does not meddle in the lives of neighbors and goes through the needed motions with higher-ups in order to show them what they want to see, without getting people in the neighborhood into trouble.

If anything can deal the CDRs their coup de grace, it is the current process by which class divisions in Cuban society are slowly becoming normalized. Yes, because, after many years in which we believed we were blessed with equality, even the papers are beginning to defend the benefits of having some be more equal than others.

With the new dawn of private property, we are again seeing the “classic” social classes, well defined proletarians and owners, owners who will no longer have to pretend “this is the wagon of the workers”, because it’s actually theirs (period), as the restaurant, workshop and many other places of work will be. These classes begin to deepen social inbreeding, the polarization of the country into well-to-do neighborhoods and shanties, and so on and so forth.

In the neighborhoods of the wealthy, private forms of security (which are already operational, in discrete forms) will become the norm and no one will be interested in that obsolete structure known as the CDR, an institution that will remind them of the time when being bourgeois was not well-regarded. In the poorer neighborhoods, CDRs will be remembered with resentment, as the tool of a governing class that first used them, later controlled them and ultimately betrayed them.


17 thoughts on “Cuba’s Divisive CDR Defense Committees

  • October 2, 2014 at 9:51 am
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    Sure, and that is why the US government sent 5 Cubans who were monitoring (just like the us does around the word) terrorist organization of the mafia Cubana in the US, three heroes remain in prison…not one of the viejas de blanco has gone to prison for years and years…

  • October 2, 2014 at 9:49 am
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    Yeah, sure like they protected the US citizens in Ferguson protesting the murder of Miachael Brown by a cop. They protected them with tanks, sniper rifles and tear gas…never see las viejas de blancos being tear gasses, just shammed…

  • October 2, 2014 at 9:47 am
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    Really? Thanks needed a good joke today….who would work when they get paid in hard currency….

  • October 1, 2014 at 3:38 pm
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    There goes that chip on the shoulder again Dan. This concern of yours about “class” is I suppose an indication that you consider yourself to be of the workers. (Have yiou ever worked with a pick and shovel – Oh Oh, I should have said Hammer and Scycle).? You know naught of what you say.
    Whereas I have received wonderful hospitality from Americans, I have very deep concerns about the US Constitution and the need for amendment, Similarly I have concern about some 30 million US citizens not having a health program and wonder why your evident energies are no directed towards that end?
    But just to show how wrong you are, I was Executive Chairman of what at that time was the largest paid membership protest organization in the history of the UK. I know all about confronting power and that is why I detest the power and control exercised by the Castro family regime over the good people of Cuba.
    I support freedom and protest those who oppose it.
    You support dictatorial socialism and protest those who oppose it.
    That and your obvious class inferiority syndrome are the differences between us!

  • October 1, 2014 at 3:19 pm
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    Firstly, in the US a similar group of women to the Ladies in White protesting peacefully bearing their flowers would be protected by the Police against any thugs endeavoring to assault them.
    You may recall that it was the Cuban Embassy in Brazil thet organized the demonstrations against Yoani Sanchez when she visited Brazil.
    Secondly the main source of lies about the US is frustrated socialist US citizens as evidenced by some of the nonsense we see in these columns.
    Thirdly, I am surprised that I have to explain to a US citizen that Guantanamo is a military not police base.

  • October 1, 2014 at 8:36 am
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    Castro regime have radio stations in US, have magazines, make propaganda in newspapers and have several organizations (Alianza Martiana, Maceitos, etc) that works for castro lies and propaganda inside the US…… and no one is sent to Guantanamo!!!……… and no one is beaten or jailed like the Ladies in White are every Sunday.

  • September 30, 2014 at 6:51 pm
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    Castro regime uses all its power as only employer in Cuba to isolate and harass opponents not giving them the opportunity to work and earn a living way……. that’s why the Cuban nation in exile help these people sending them money via US embassy and using all its vote power in the US to make US gov to provide economic help to the internal opposition in Cuba so they can fight the isolation strategy of castro regime……. as long there is a Cuban nation in exile you can be sure the opponents to castro regime will not be broken by hunger.

  • September 30, 2014 at 1:30 pm
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    Don’t ruin Carlyle’s dreamworld view of the US by having him look up the gentle treatment meted out to peaceful Occupy protestors. People of his class have nothing to protest and have never personally confronted power.

  • September 30, 2014 at 9:38 am
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    What would happen if a group of women, receiving funding from Cuba would engage in “peaceful protest” spreading lies about the USA???? The FBI would be on their tails in a few seconds……probably send them to Guantanamo!

  • September 29, 2014 at 7:49 pm
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    Correct about the ‘phone. Incorrect about the Ladies in White. But even if your view was correct, that would not change the guilt of those engaged by the Castro family regime to attack and injure a group of women peacefully demonstrating. You and I have had such freedoms all our lives, a consequence of living in free democratic countries. I also am unable to access the Internet when in Cuba thenks to the regime’s opposition to access to information sources which they are unable to control.

  • September 28, 2014 at 9:33 am
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    Damas de blanco are a organization funded, supported by the US. Just watch the videos of them entering the US interest section in La Habana. On the phone issue, I assume you don’t have a phone when you are in Cuba….?

  • September 26, 2014 at 10:52 pm
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    Not in our town with a population of over 80,000. The CDR does decide who gets a telephone, not ETECSA. The CDR informs the Cuban Intelligence Service headed by Alejandro Castro Espin of any murmur of possible disadents and the CDR will for example organise opposition to people like the Ladies in White. So-called snitching is their described role.

  • September 26, 2014 at 4:23 pm
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    Interesting word, “snitch”. It comes from 18th century London slang for nose. A snitch was somebody who stuck his nose in other people’s business, and eventually wound up having it cut off. Literally. The typical revenge on a snitch back then was to cut his or her nose off.

    I have read of CDR members demanding their cut from the neighbours under their watch. Anybody found raising a pig on his porch would learn that a few pork chops would buy the discretion of his CDR overlords.

    Of course, Fidel did not invent the CDR concept, but he knew where to go for the best ideas. The Nazis employed a similar neighbourhood watch program, as did the Soviet Union.

    Defending the revolution was the daily function of the CDR, but the philosophical basis of the concept was fundamental to Communist ideology. The ultimate point was the destruction and elimination of everything private and personal. Under Communism, society is atomized, shattered and reorganized along ideological dictates. There is the powerless individual alone and naked before the All Powerful State.

    In that sense, the CDR was so much more than a common snitch.

  • September 26, 2014 at 3:57 pm
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    The CDR are no more than an extension of the police system.
    It is largely populated by people that do want to meddle in the lives of neighbors and goes through the needed motions to get people in the neighborhood into trouble.

    It had nothing to do with class struggle, just with social control and repression of opponents of the regime of whatever class they were.

  • September 26, 2014 at 3:46 pm
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    This article contains the best description I have yet seen of the Castro family regime and its adherents:
    “A CLUB FOR ALL THE OLD FOLKS IN THE NEIGHBORHOOD.”
    The purpose of the CDR was defined by (who else) Fidel Castro on September 28, 1960. He proclaimed it to be:
    “a collective system of revolutionary vigilance established so that everybody knows who lives on every block, what relations they have had with the tyranny, in what activities are they involved and with whom they meet.”
    There is an individual file kept on each block resident, some of which reveal the internal dynamics of each household. These along with photographs are now on a national computer program for the administration.
    Nothing can cloud the reasons for the existence of te CDR. It does for the Castro family regime what the Stasi did for Honecker in East Germany. It ensures that in Cuba the walls have ears.
    Visitors to Cuba are well advised to only discuss politics with Cubans on a one to one basis. Cuba is a socialist dictatorship and it is wise to remember that.
    As policy the Castro family regime will encourage its supporters to amplify reasons about why the CDR is necessary, how it has changed, how it is almost Biblical in practising “love they neignbour”, but its main purpose remains the original one given by Fidel Castro Ruz.
    Don’t let the sand get into or the wool to cover your eyes!

  • September 26, 2014 at 3:24 pm
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    Moses, most of what they do now is dealing with domestic violence, truancy etc. I saw it many times.

  • September 26, 2014 at 10:39 am
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    In the neighborhood I grew up in we had “CDRs” as well. We called them snitches and they did not fare too well once discovered. CDRs in Cuba are government-organized snitches, nothing more.

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