Pitching in My Two Cents for Cuba's CDR Congress
May 28, 2013
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
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
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.