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Committee for the Defense of the Revolution

The best-known Cuban mass organization, the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR), was established on September 28, 1960. A CDR unit was set up on each square block throughout all urban areas, and equivalent counterparts were located in rural areas. The CDRs act as the eyes and ears of the regime at the most personal level; they are designed as a "neighborhood watch" in which neighbors are both the watching and the watched. The police tap into this network for information on any individual: information on the suspect's friends, visitors, family background, work history and volunteer activities is readily available, as well as CDR officials' personal assessments of the revolutionary commitment of each individual within the jurisdiction.

The worth of each individual is assessed within the context of regime loyalty and compliance. and resources are allocated and favors granted based on that assessment. A certificate from the CDR is required before any building material to repair or remodel a house can be requested from People's Power, the organization in charge of their distribution. In order to change residence, citizens must get permission from the CDR to transfer the family food identification card to a new address. The local CDR also controls access to many avenues of upward social mobility; letters of recommendation from zone committees vouching for an individuals's correct revolutionary orientation are vital in gaining membership in the Union of Communist Youth and in the selection process for professional university programs.

Although economically dependent on the Soviet Union, the Cuban social and criminal justice systems are more similar to those of Chinese communism than of Soviet communism. After the revolution, the national revolutionary militia, the police, and the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution (CDR) were responsible for maintaining law and order. The police organization operates at central, provincial, and local levels. While police operations are to some extent influenced by the CDRs, the organization is more centralized, militaristic, and autonomous than in China. The post-revolutionary force was composed of mostly loyal recruits from the rebel army, many from lower classes; and in this sense, the police were representative of the people. The CDRs provide a link between central government and local community and form the basis for a number of welfare and crime-related initiatives.

By 1964 Castro's Cuba had taken on the character of a police state. The national intelligence and security organization, the Department of State Security, with an estimated personnel strength of several thousand, maintained units throughout the country and was apparently effective in infiltrating and exposing counter-revolutionary groups. It worked closely with the huge and ubiquitous organization of volunteer informants — the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution. These informants appear to be active in almost every block of every Cuban city and claim the Committee has a membership of almost a million and a half. In addition to spying and reporting on their neighbors, they distribute food rationing cards, hand out propaganda, and organize “voluntary work” groups.

Originally established to "defend the Revolution" by preventing counterrevolutionary activities and monitoring neighborhood developments, the mission of the CDRs gradually expanded. By the late 1960s, aside from their monitoring mission, the CDRs had a major impact on the average citizen's life through their functions of revolutionary socialization and social control. The block-to-block CDRs were ubiquitous. They mobilized the population and ensure that the citizens under their purview attend mass rallies and participate in government-sponsored "voluntary" activities, such as the collection of bottles and other recyclable materials, blood donation drives, or educational programs.

By 1985 there were an estimated 6.1 million members of CDRs, or about 80 percent of Cuba's adult population. Using a pyramidal organization, the CDRs continue to operate at the city-block level and are jurisdictionally connected to the smallest administrative units of the National Revolutionary Police (Policia Nacional Revolucionaria - PNR).

Neighborhood CDRs maintain detailed records on a person's whereabouts, family and work history, involvement in political activities, and overall revolutionary moral character. They also assist in ensuring compliance with compulsory military service. CDR approval must be obtained when requesting a change of residence; the CDRs are charged with registering the family food ration card when people move from one retail distribution location to another. CDR endorsements are also required for students applying for membership in the UJC (Union of Young Communists) or seeking university admission.

In the late 1990s, participation in CDRs was much more perfunctory than in the past. The CDRs came to play an important role in Cuba's electoral process in the 1990s. As the 1990s closed, the CDRs counted 7.5 million people on their membership rolls - 80 percent of the adult population. During the 1998 National Assembly elections, the CDRs campaigned steadily and massively on behalf of a vote for the single official slate; they combated both blank voting and the process of voting selectively for some but not all candidates on the official ballot. On election day, the CDRs visited some homes repeatedly to ensure the highest possible turnout. The CDRs were literally an arm of the PCC working to achieve the desired electoral results.

Despite its limited resources, Cuba has developed an integrated mental health system that emphasizes prevention and community care. It consists of three distinct organizations: the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, one of many mass community organizations that strive to protect the revolution; the policlinics, which provide comprehensive health services to geographic areas containing 25,000 to 40,000 people; and the psychiatric hospitals. All three use treatment approaches that are based on a social systems model and that emphasize solving current problems and disturbances. Behavioral and milder psychiatric problems are treated by policlinic psychologists, in the community whenever feasible, and major psychiatric disorders are treated by psychiatrists at the hospitals.

The National Urban Agriculture Program started in 1994 as a response to the dire need for food and the lack of transportation and housing necessary to re-deploy urban unemployed workers to the countryside. At the end of 2002, organized urban agriculturalists controlled about 35,800 hectares of land growing fresh vegetables and herbs in over 4,000 organoponics (raised beds filled with organic matter), 8,600 intensive vegetable gardens, 180,000 small plots and 300,000 backyard plots, the latter coordinated through the local Committees to Defend the Revolution.

The most basic obstacle to the development of an opposition is the difficulty for those who silently oppose the regime to identify each other. This difficulty is compounded by the individual's need to simulate loyalty and adherence to the regime's policies as a survival mechanism. The regime fosters a climate of mistrust by erasing the distinction between delinquency and counter-revolutionary behavior. All activities not approved and orchestrated by the state are viewed by the authorities with suspicion; the very term "authorities" reaches down into daily life to include the layers of neighborhood warders and informants who observe and report on the minutia of their subjects' lives. A departure from normal or routine behavior is reported to the Committee for the Defense of the Revolution having jurisdiction over that neighborhood, and appropriate action taken to punish behavior that does not conform to the 'goals of the revolution.

The Government of Cuba's response to the dissident-sponsored Varela Project was to have its own petition drive. This petition called for amending the Cuban Constitution to make the one-party Communist state irreversible. The petition drive was launched with a national mobilization on 11 June 2002. Independent Cuban journalists have reported a number of cases of threats or reprisals against people for not signing the petition, none of which involved threats of being charged with peligrosidad (dangerousness) under the Cuban penal code.

Independent journalist Carlos Serpa Maceira, resident of the town of Isla de la Juventud in Havana province, refused to sign the petition and was visited by a Cuban army officer and officials of the local Comité de Defensa de la Revolución (CDR), Committee for the Defense of the Revolution, who pressured him and told him he was 'putting in danger the future of his nine-year-old daughter,' which was taken to mean that she would be ostracized in terms of opportunities in education or other areas (UPECI 19 Jun 2002).

Juan Alberto Mirabel Cordero, out of prison under libertad condicional, conditional liberty, a form of parole (nature of conviction not reported), was pressured into signing by officials of the Communist Party of Cuba (PCC) and the local CDR who were accompanied by a ranking police official who previously had threatened to put Mirabel Cordero back in prison (Cuba Free Press 28 Jun 2002). In the municipality of Güines southeast of the capital in Havana province, Jose Angel Mesa Pérez, apparently a vendor, was pressured to sign the referendum by CDR officials who threatened to have his self-employment license revoked (Cuba Free Press 19 Jun 2002).

By 2008 there were an estimated 4000 to 5000 people serving time under the law of "dangerousness". This laws allows sentences of up to four years on a judgment that a person has the capacity to commit a crime or an anti-social act. No proof is required beyond a declaration by the local chief of police. The trial is a summary judgment rendered quickly and the defendant is not allowed legal representation during the proceeding. Although these persons are innocent of any specific crime, the the Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCHRNR) does not list such cases as political prisoners unless the person is a member of a recognized opposition organization. The majority of those convicted under this statute are not politically involved. A typical case is a youth who refuses to work because of the low salaries, or someone who has mouthed off to a local police chief or to a member of the local Committee for the Defense of the Revolution. Therefore, it is often a "crime" of attitude rather than opinion. Prosecutors may introduce testimony from a member of the neighborhood-based Committee for the Defense of the Revolution about the revolutionary background of a defendant, which may contribute to a longer or shorter sentence.

CDRs continue losing ground in their efforts to keep Cubans in line. Many CDR officials are themselves involved in illegal activities and in no position to turn in others. Others don't want to continue living in neighborhoods where they've become known as snitches. CDR counterparts in the Soviet Union operated more effectively because the rewards were greater and the punishment of transgressors much harsher. As one Cuban commented, "No one wants to be CDR president anymore. It's just a pain. You have to do all this stuff, and for what?" But CDRs are still very much a factor in every day life.

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Page last modified: 04-04-2013 18:08:28 ZULU