Iván García, Translator: Regina Anavy
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
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 as 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
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.
Translated by Regina Anavy
September 27 2011