An Old Castro Weapon Still in Operation
An Old Castro Weapon Still in Operation / Ivan Garcia
Posted on December 3, 2014
Renato’s family emigrated to the United States on October 3 but that did
not stop them from having some weak communal soup, drinking cheap rum
and dancing the timba on a block of Reparto Sevillano south of Havana on
the night of the 27th, the eve of the anniversary of the Committees for
the Defense of the Revolution (CDR).*
There were photos of Renato with the president of the CDR and the person
in charge of surveillance, a guy with connections to the special
services. As a momento of the festivities, they were shown with their
Thanks to a stereo on loan from a bookie of an illegal lottery known as
the “bolito,” or ball, a round of boleros began after midnight and ended
with “Lágrimas Negras,” (Black Tears) the anthem of Cuban emigres.
Have times changed? Yes. Are the Castro brother’s quasi-state
institutions more tolerant? No. The ongoing twenty-five-year-old
economic crisis has led to a political sleight of hand in the strategies
used by the Communist autocrats.
Now the goal is to generate enemy greenbacks that Cubans living in the
United States generously send to their poor relations in Cuba. The CDR,
the Federation of Cuban Women (FMC), the Young Communist League (UJC)
and other state institutions have thrown off their heavy ideological
ballast in favor of the political pragmatism currently being practiced
It is not unusual for a successful Cuban prostitute living in Europe or
someone who has risked his life crossing the treacherous Florida
straights to return after a few years and take part in a celebration
sponsored by the CDR in his or her old neighborhood.
It was not always this way. On the night of September 28, 1960 — amid
the sound of firecrackers — Fidel Castro set a system of collective
surveillance on every block. Democratic civil society was dissolved
until further notice.
Cuba was divided into “revolutionaries” and “worms.” Institutions were
militarized. Obsessive spying into citizens’ private lives became
routine. Everything was of interest to the special services, from how
you lived and what you ate to the marital infidelities of members of the
party and armed forces.
Betrayals and anonymous phone calls denouncing neighbors flooded the
switchboards of police precincts. Cuba had entered its worst phase in
the Cold War.
The CDR was and still is one of the primary instruments of control and
cooperation for the Department of State Security. Thanks to its
informants it was able to detain thousands of Castro opponents in April
1961 in advance of the Bay of Pigs invasion.
Though it still keeps an eye on dissidents, after fifty-four years the
CDR is now an organization in obvious decline. Once upon a time its
members organized scrap drives, were involved in public health
campaigns, conducted nighttime neighborhood watch patrols, did volunteer
work and taught political science courses.
It spite of its decline it remains the governmental institution with the
largest membership in the country: around seven million people. Everyone
is automatically enrolled at age fourteen.
The committee on each block maintains a book known as the “Directory of
Addresses” in which the names of everyone who lives on the block are
If you move, you are required to notify the the committee so that the
new address can be registered in the book. Anyone visiting the home of a
neighbor must also be reported to the CDR.
According to CDR reports the police detain and return to their provinces
of origin Cubans from other areas who are living in Havana illegally.
Perhaps its most important current function is to exert civilian
oversight on those suspected of illegal activities and corruption, but
especially over activities by opponents and independent journalists.
Individual CDR committee heads provide data on all citizens residing
their areas to the local police chief or investigators from the UJC or
Cuban Communist Party (PCC), and regularly provide information to State
On individual blocks there are other anonymous informers. They are
responsible for checking and reporting on a dissident’s routine and
Generally, they are bored retirees or diehard Castro supporters. They
take down license plate numbers of people visiting a dissident’s home
and go through the trash cans of opponents looking for food containers,
bottles of perfume and empty beverage bottles that might indicate “an
At a ceremony last year in Havana’s Convention Center, Raul Castro
stated that the CDR must employ new tactics to combat dissident activity.
The general asserted that “the enemy will never stop working, will never
change, so the organization must alter its strategies.” The regime is
trying to carry out a bizarre course correction on a hybrid of the worst
form of state capitalism combined with inefficient and authoritarian
He is trying to build bridges to the new breed of émigrés using any
means possible. Though a large segment is unsympathetic to the regime,
they also want nothing to do with political dissidents.
Not even megalomaniacal dictators like Mussolini or Hitler had groups of
people in every vicinity who betrayed neighbors and mounted systematic
acts of repudiation against opponents.
Though it has become something of a formality, the CDR remains an
effective weapon for the regime. In terms of controlling those who
opposed his revolution, its creation was one of Fidel Castro’s
Translator’s note: The CDR is a network of neighborhood committees
across Cuba. Committee heads monitor the activities of every person on
their respective blocks. Yearly neighborhood parties to commemorate the
organization’s founding are centered around a “caldosa,” or communal
soup, to which residents are expected to contribute.
22 November 2014
Source: An Old Castro Weapon Still in Operation / Ivan Garcia |
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