“In every barrio, Revolution!” - CDR Museum opens

Winter 2008

Natasha Hickman reports on Havana’s latest museum which celebrates the history and work of the Committees for the Defence of the Revolution

September 28th is the anniversary of the foundation of the Cuba’s Committees for the Defence of the Revolution (CDR), and this date gives its name to a new museum dedicated to their work, recently opened on the capitol’s busy shopping street Obispo.

CDRs are one of Cuba’s mass grassroots organisations, community groups based in every neighbourhood representing people living in a block of houses, or neighbourhood area.

Founded in 1960, the organisation’s membership extends to every city neighbourhood and rural community across the island. Membership is open to anyone aged over 14, and although membership is not compulsory, today it is estimated that the 133,000 CDRs gather more than 8 million of the 11.2 million Cubans living on the island, 95.8 per cent of those eligible to join.

The organisations were originally established by Fidel Castro to defend local communities from Batista loyalists following the triumph of the Revolution. In 1960, members of Bastista’s police and counter-revolutionaries roamed the countryside with bombs and guns and worked clandestinely in towns carrying out terrorist attacks and sabotages which caused hundreds of deaths and casualties.

The CDRs’ initial role was to mount community patrols to guard local people from such attacks and to defend the Revolution’s ideas in every neighbourhood, hence their slogan, “En cada barrio, Revolution!” (In every barrio, Revolution!). They still have this role today, although now it is more to ensure the streets and people are safe at night and take care that houses are not broken in to. Each family group is required to take watch between 10pm-3am based on a rota throughout the year.

The knowledge that CDRs have about individuals in their community and the activities and problems within each household has led US backed groups keen to discredit the Cuban system to accuse them of being nothing more than government spying networks. However, this fails to recognise the sense of community and collective responsibility for neighbourhood problems that CDRs foster, together with the noticeably low rates of crime and anti-social behaviour that exist in the country as a result of their work.

Critics also omit to mention the impressive contribution the Committees have made in the organisation of child vaccination programmes, community health promotion, and neighbourhood recycling projects. They also organise volunteers to help repair schools, paint and upkeep the streets(when paint is available) and run voluntary blood donation drives - just a few of the altruistic community initiatives they support.

The “cederistas” (as CDR members are known) key contribution in voluntary blood donations has been recognised by the United Nations. In 2005 Cuba reached 520,000 individual donations-a figure that represents one per every 18.8 inhabitants. Currently the World Health Organisation(WHO) has set the standard at one per every 20 inhabitants for developed countries and one per 200 inhabitants in underdeveloped nations.

María Elena, a young cederista who joined her local CDR when she was just 14, says: “The secret in the success of the CDRs lies in the level of understanding shown by its members, in our personalised work with each one of them, and in the organisation’s hard work in general.“

The ‘28 September Museum’ on Obispo contains CDR posters, memorabilia and records from 1960 to the present day and illustrates its developing role over the years. Early exhibits include reading lamps from the first literacy campaigns to photographs remembering some of the martyrs who were killed by Batista’s supporters in the formative years of the Revolution.

More recent displays focus on the work done to prevent the mosquito which breeds dengue fever, community recycling campaigns and the health promotion leaflets and condoms handed out within CDRs to prevent the spread of STDs and HIV.

The second floor of the museum is decorated to look like a CDR street party, with garlands and Cuban flags hanging between doorways; recognition that they also have a fun aspect, organising parties to celebrate key dates and holidays in the Cuban calendar - something which people on CSC tours who have received warm and lively welcome parties from CDR members will testify to!


Calle Obispo (Havana Vieja)

Entrance fee: 2CUC (Camera pass 5 CUC)

All information in the museum is in Spanish, although there is an English language information sheet.

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