CDR, Castro’s Popular Weapon / Iván García

Photo: Carlos Alkim, Flickr

On September 28, 1960, while homemade bombs and firecrackers were being detonated by his political opponents, an angry Fidel Castro created the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR). From the balcony of the north wing of the Presidential Palace, the guerrilla commander, recently returned from a tour of New York, argued the need to monitor all the blocks in the country for the “worms and disaffected,” to protect the revolutionary process.

It was one more step in the autocratic direction in which he was now navigating the nascent revolution. Another deep stab towards the creation of a totalitarian state.

From 1959, Castro had struck a mortal blow to press freedom when, methodically, between promises and threats, the main newspapers of Cuba were shut down. He eliminated the rights of workers to strike and habeas corpus. The legal safeguards for those who opposed his regime were almost nil. He concentrated power. And he made political, economic and social policies by himself, without previously consulting ministers.

The process of establishing himself as the top pontiff in olive green culminated in 1961, with the radicalization of the revolution and the strangulation of the pockets of citizens who dissented against his government.

The CDRs are and have been one of the most effective weapons to collectivize society and get unconditional support for Castro’s strange theories. And one way to manage the nation. They were also the standard bearers at the time, shouting insults, throwing stones and punching the Cubans who thought differently or decided to leave their homeland.

The CDRs are a version of Mussolini’s brownshirts. Or one of those collective monstrosities created by Adolf Hitler. More or less. Over 5 million people are integrated into the ranks of the CDRs on the island.

Membership is not mandatory. But it forms part of the conditioned reflexes established in a society designed to genuflect, applaud and praise the “leaders”.

Although many people have no desire to take part in revolutionary events and marches, or to attend the acts of repudiation against the Ladies in White and the dissident protestors, as if they were on a safari, in a mechanical way at the age of 14, most Cuban children join the CDR.

It forms part of the greased and functional machine of the Creole mandarins. A collective society, where the good and bad must be doled out by the regime.

Two decades ago, with a state salary you could buy a Russian car, a refrigerator, a black and white TV and even an alarm clock. If you surpassed your quota in cane cutting, you were demonstrating loyalty to the fidelista cause or you were a cadre of the party or the Communist Youth.

The others, those who rebuked Fidel Castro’s caudillismo, in addition to being besieged and threatened by his special services, did not even have the right to work.

The CDRs played a sad role in the hard years of the ’80s. They were protagonists in the shameful verbal and physical lynchings against those who decided to leave Cuba.

It can’t be forgotten. The crowd inflamed by the regime’s propaganda, primary and secondary students, employees and CDR members, throwing eggs and tomatoes at the houses of the “scum”, to the beat of chanted slogans like “down with the worms” or “Yankee, you’re selling yourself for a pair of jeans”.

Among the dark deeds of Fidel Castro’s personal revolution, the acts of repudiation occupy first place. In addition to monitoring and verbally assaulting opponents, the CDRs perform social tasks.

They collect and distribute raw material. They help deliver polio vaccines. And, from time to time, less and less, they organize study circles where they analyze and vote to approve a political text or some operation of the Castro brothers.

That bunch of acronyms generated by the sui generis Cuban socialist system, CTC, FMC, MTT, UJC and FEU, among others, are “venerated NGOs”. According to the official discourse, those who by sword and shield support the regime.

In this 21st century, the CDRs, like the revolution itself, have lost steam. And their anniversaries and holidays are scarce. The night guards are rare birds. But the CDR members still keep their nails sharp.

They are the eyes and ears of the intelligence services. Snitches pure and simple. In one CDR a stone’s throw from Red Square in Vibora (which is not a square nor is it painted red), some of the species remain.

Now one has died. A lonely old man and childless, a factory worker, who was noted for his daily reports about “counter-revolutionary activities on the block”.

Two remain active. They have antagonized the neighborhood by their intransigence. All who dissent publicly in Cuba know that there is always a pair of eyes that watch your steps and then report by telephone to State Security.

Over time, you get used to their clumsy maneuvers of checking up on you and interfering with your private life. They inspect your garbage, to see what you eat or if you bathe with soap you bought in the “shopping”. Sometimes they make you laugh. Almost always they make you pity them.

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Translated by Regina Anavy

September 27 2011