Comités de represión

CDR: Citizen Representation or Political Control?

: Citizen Representation or Political Control? / Yoani Sanchez

Translator: Unstated, Yoani Sanchez

The stew was cooked on firewood collected by some neighbors, the flags

hung in the middle of the block and the shouts of Viva! went on past

midnight. A ritual repeated with more or less enthusiasm every September

27 throughout the Island. The eve of the 52nd anniversary of the

founding of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), the

official media celebrate on its commemoration, a song intended to

energize those who are a part of the organization with the most members

in the entire country, and to dust off the old anecdotes of glory and power.

But beyond these formalities, which are repeated identically each year,

we can perceive that the influence of the CDR in Cuban life is in a

downward spiral. Gone are the days when we were all "CeDeRistas" and the

acronym — with the figure of a man brandishing a machete — still shone

brightly on the facades of some houses.

Amid the ongoing decline of its prominence, it's worth asking if the

committees have been a more of source of transmission of power to the

citizenry, than a representation of us to the government. The facts

leave little room for doubt. Since they were created in 1960, they have

had an eminently ideological base, marked by informers. Fidel himself

said it during the speech in which he announced their creation:

"We are going to implement, against imperialist campaigns of aggression,

a Revolutionary system of collective surveillance where everybody will

know who lives on their block and what relations they have with the

tyranny; and what they devote themselves to; who they meet with; what

activities they are involved in."

These words from the Maximum Leader are now difficult to find reproduced

in full on national websites and newspapers. In part because, despite

the unconditional support for the Commander in Chief, the current

editors of these spaces know very well that such language is totally out

of sync with the 21st century.

That is, what seemed like an exalted Revolutionary speech delivered from

the balcony of the Presidential Palace, in the light of today has all

the hallmarks of partisan despotism, of the grossest authoritarianism.

Big Brother announcing his plan. If those words excited exaltation at

the beginning of the sixties… they now provoke in many a mixture of

terror, disgust and embarrassment for the man who spoke them.

The "sweeter" side of the CDR is the one that's always related in

official reports, talk about a popular force dedicated to collecting raw

material, helping in the vaccination of infants, promoting blood

donations, and guarding neighborhoods against crime. Put like that it

appears to be an apolitical neighborhood group ready to solve community


Believe me, behind this facade of representation and solidarity is

hidden a mechanism of surveillance and control. And I'm not speaking

from the distance of my armchair or from the lack of knowledge of a

who spends two weeks in Havana.

I was one of those millions of Cuban children who stockpiled empty jars

or cartons, cut the grass and handed out anti-mosquito products in the

CDRs all over the country. I was also vaccinated against polio and even

tasted some plate of stew or other during the fiestas of this organization.

In short, I grew up as a child of the CDR, although when I reached

adulthood I refused to become a militant among its ranks. I lived all

this and I don't regret it, because now I can conscientiously say from

the inside that all those beautiful moments are dwarfed by the abuse,

the injustices, the accusations and control that these so-called

committees have visited on me and millions of other Cubans.

I speak of the many young people who were not able to attend

in the years of the greatest ideological extremism because of a bad

reference from the of their CDR. It was enough during a

reference check from a or workplace for some CDRista to say that

an individual was "not sufficiently combative" for them to not be

accepted for a better job or a university slot.

It was precisely these neighborhood organizations who most forcefully

organized the repudiation rallies carried out in 1980 against those

Cubans who decided to emigrate through the port of Mariel in what came

to be known on the other shore as the Mariel Boatlift. And today they

are also the principal cauldron of the repressive acts against the

Ladies in White and other dissidents.

They have never worked as a unifying or conciliatory force in society,

but rather as a fundamental ingredient in the exacerbation of

ideological polarization, social , and the creation of hatred.

I remember a young man who lived in my neighborhood of Cayo Hueso, who

had long hair and listened to rock music. The president of the CDR made

his life so difficult, accused him of so many atrocities simply for the

fact of wanting to appear as who he was, that he finally ended up in

prison for "pre-criminal dangerousness." Today this intransigent — this

one-time "Frikie" from my block — lives with his daughter in

Connecticut, after having his life and reputation dragged through the

mud like so many others.

I also know of several big traders in the black market who assumed some

post in the committees to use as a cover for their activities.

So many who took on the role of "head of surveillance" and were

simultaneously the biggest resellers of tobacco, gas, and food in the

whole area.

With few exceptions, I did not know ethically commendable people who led

a CDR. Rather they attracted those with the lowest human passions: envy

before those who prospered a little more; resentment of someone who

managed to create a harmonious family; grudges against those who

received remittances from family abroad; dislike for everyone who

honestly spoke their minds.

This deceitfulness, this absence of values and this accumulation of

grievances, have been been one of the fundamental causes for the CDRs'

fall into disgrace.

Because people are tired of hiding their bags so the informing neighbor

can't see it from their balcony. People are tired of the worn out sign

in front of their house with the figure with the threatening machete.

People are tired of paying a membership fee to an organization that when

you need it takes the side of the boss, the State, the Party.

People are tired of 52 anniversaries, one after another, like a stale

and nightmarish deja vu. People are tired. And the way to express this

exhaustion is with the lowest attendance at CDR meetings, failing to go

on night watch to "patrol" the blocks, even avoiding tasting the stew —

ever more bland — on the night of September 27.

If doubts remain about why people get tired, we have the words of Fidel

Castro himself on that day in 1960, when he revealed from the first

moment the objective of his grim creature: "We are going to establish a

system of collective surveillance. We are going to establish a system of

Revolutionary collective surveillance!"

27 September 2012

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