Cuba’s Neighborhood Committees Lose Impetus 1

Nearly everyone is part of the communal surveillance network, but members admit that people don’t turn up for events any more.

By Alejandro Tur Valladares, Institute for War & Peace Reporting

As Cuba’s system of neighborhood committees celebrated its 52nd birthday, observers said public participation in it was dwindling. Annual celebrations of the anniversary of the nationwide Committees for the Defense of the Revolution, CDR, took place in Cienfuegos province in late September, for the fourth year running.

The CDR system was set up in 1960, a year after the Cuban revolution, as a network of neighborhood groups which would spy on residents and stamp out any subversive activity. As well as acting as the regime’s eyes and ears, CDRs coordinate community activities. In the last few years, they have also become involved in health and hygiene campaigns. Most Cubans formally register as members of their local CDR – official statistics show that 93 percent of people over the age of 14 are in the organization. Officials from the CDR National Directorate said they chose Cienfuegos to host this year’s celebrations because neighborhood surveillance there had helped reduce the crime rate, targets for blood donation quotas had been exceeded.

However, in an interview for the provincial newspaper “5 de Septiembre”, Martha Ojeda Sánchez, who is CDR coordinator for Cienfuegos and was in charge of the national celebrations, admitted that problems existed. “Of the 753 bases [in Cienfuegos], 58 aren’t functioning properly for various reasons – for example because unsuitable leaders were elected,” she said. “There are a significant number of CDRs which don’t even hold meetings or set objectives.” Despite this, Ojeda Sánchez pointed that 303,000 new members had been recruited to the province’s CDRs.

Cuban activist Clemente Álvarez Díaz believes Ojeda Sánchez was playing down the problems facing the CDR system. “The membership statistics are probably correct,” he said, noting that “people who come of age are put under immense pressure to join. Large-scale absenteeism [affects] CDR neighborhood watch groups. Many leaders lack community leadership skills, and some of them behave in a positively antisocial manner,” Álvarez Díaz said. He added that senior leaders appeared uninterested in trying to find out why the CDR network had lost its ability to really mobilize people over the last decade.

Official journalist Lisandra Marene interviewed a local CDR delegate, William López Mederos, for the “5 de Septiembre” newspaper. “It’s no secret that people don’t come along like they used to,” López Mederos said. “When I was a boy, there were masses of people – the venue would fill up.” Nowadays, he said, “out of a household of seven people, only two will go – sometimes no one. If you ask them to walk two or three blocks for a meeting, they won’t come.”

The anniversary celebrations begin the day before the date itself, September 28, with the preparation of a traditional “caldosa” stew of root vegetables and pork. For Rubén, a CDR member in the Juanita neighborhood, the anniversary meal and party are still “one of the only moments in the year that Cuban families get together and socialize”, although he noted that “the state is giving fewer and fewer provisions for it.” In Cienfuegos city, it was clear that some CDRs did not hold local parties at all on the day of the anniversary. When asked why this was, CDR member cited “a lack of resources and general apathy.” José Suárez, a resident of the city’s Tulipán neighborhood, said Cubans were “not in the mood for parties.” In former times, Suárez said, people went along “to fill their stomachs with a bit of caldosa or to have a beer.” These days, he claimed, “even that is too much effort.”

Alejandro Tur Valladares is an independent journalist in Cuba.

One comment

  1. I arrive in the United States of America when I was 16 years of age via political asylum because my father was a political prisoner,actually I’m 40 years old.I remember that my mother to listen to The British BBC or Radio Marti had to lower the volume on her radio because the CDR informant could hear the transmitting radio and they will never hesitate to call the Authorities.The CDR was highly despised by Cubans.We called them derogatory names,”CHIVATOS.” The CDR Coordinated the repression against all those seeking freedom,they were informed of everything that happened in the area where they lived and the CDR reported to the MININT Sector Chief (Usually a Sergeant) on weekly basis the flow of information contained in this particular sector.The CDR knew,how many people lived in every home in the neighborhood,they kept track of the family members that arrived to your home,the CDR knew who were your friend and their activities and they did not hesitate to use their own kids to collect information of whoever they were seeking.the CDR personnel were the first ones to escort the Police when they break in your home looking for counter-Revolution propaganda,at the same time you also timed them at nights when they use to do they rounds and citizens graffiti their walls with “DOWN WITH COMMUNISM” or “DOWN WITH FIDEL CASTRO” in a way was like the game of Cat and Mice to us but if you were busted you were done.

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