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.