Cuba confronts challenge of 'special period'

By Emile Schepers, in People's Weekly World,
21 October, 1995, pg. 15.

HAVANA - Cuba's Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CDRs) have risen to the challenge presented by the "Special Period" that has resulted from the cutoff of Soviet and Eastern European trade and the simultaneous tightening of the 35-year U.S. blockade of the island.

This writer, in the La Lisa section of Havana to attend the Fifth Convention of Continental Front of Community Organizations (FCOC), was able to observe ceremonies recently of the 35th anniversary of the CDR structures. As the FCOC session ended, the CDR of the San Augustin neighborhood of La Lisa organized a tremendous celebration. Oblivious to the warm rain that was constantly falling, hundreds of CDR members danced and socialized under a display of the flags of the 23 countries attending the FCOC celebration.

People at the celebration, and others the World spoke to, consider the construction of the CDRs to be a major gain of the Revolution. The CDRs, along with the Popular Power assemblies and the trade unions, have made it possible to have a high level of mass participation in fundarnental decision making in all aspects of life.

CDRs have well developed committees on housing, health, schools, etc., which involve most of the people in a given neighborhood in the effort to improve services and to head off problems as they arise. The Cubans attribute much of the success of their neighborhood doctor program to the fact that it takes within the organized context of the CDRs which make public health information availabIe, spot possible problems and monitor the quality of the medical services provided in each urban or rural neighborhood.

Participants in the CDRs stressed that these are neighborhood based democratic and non-govemmental organizations, which, however, have by law a direct access to government officialdom, right up to the ministerial level. They are organs of local seif-government rather than extensions of the state, but of course their relationship to the socialist state is one of mutual support.

The CDR model very much resembles what we strive to create when we engage in neighborhood based organizing in the U.S., but which is seldom achieved because either people have to fight local government or are co-opted by public and private funders.

The CDR structure runs parallel to that of the trade unions and is not intended to supplant the unions to which 94 percent of Cuban workers belong. However, the CDRs deal with people who are not easily contacted through the unions (family members without jobs, the retired elderly, and now that Cuba has heen forced tolerate some unemployment, people who have lost their jobs) and with issues that require a local, geographically concentrated effort to solve.

Speaking in Santiago, Juan Contino, National Secretary of the CDRs, emphasized the importance of the latter point. As some people are temporarily left out of work, the Cuban attitude is not to want them to become socially isolated or separated from the efforts of defending Cuba against the U.S. while building the socialist homeland. The CDRs are already in place to take up this task.

As Cuban President Fidel Castro put it, "If the CDRs had not been organized 34 years ago, we would have to invent them now" to deal with the new situation and its challenges.

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