Soldiers patrol along the Malecón seawall in Havana, Cuba

Cuban govt supporters resorted to tactics they haven’t used in decades to suppress political dissidents, professor says

Lillian Guerra, a professor of Cuban history and the director of the Cuba Program at the University of Florida, described the culture of repudiation in the country to The World’s host Marco Werman.

The World

In Cuba, the plan was for nationwide street protests on Monday and demands for more political freedoms. Basically, a repeat of this past summer’s unprecedented demonstrations.

But instead, those who took to the streets were police officers, state security agents and government supporters.

Related: For the first time, ‘children of the revolution are fighting the revolution’ says former US rep

And they kept protesters from leaving their homes. Some organizers said government supporters had surrounded their homes, blocking them from leaving. Others said that Cuban police warned them that they’d be arrested if they took to the streets.

Related: ‘Homeland and life’: The chant to Cuba’s anti-government protests

The march was meant to demand the release of prisoners — especially those who were arrested in the July protests — and for an expansion of human rights and national dialogue.

Lillian Guerra, a professor of Cuban history and the director of the Cuba Program at the University of Florida, described the culture of repudiation in the country to The World’s host Marco Werman.

Marco Werman: So, many of the government supporters in the streets on Monday were members of local neighborhood groups known as the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution. Explain what they are all about.
Lillian Guerra: Well, Committees for the Defense of the Revolution began to exist around September of 1960 in the lead-up to the US invasion at the Bay of Pigs. They were in the minds of many Cubans supposed to be a temporary organization designed to prevent people who had sympathies for the counterrevolution from acting on their sympathies. However, after 1961, in fact, they became the backbone of surveillance for the government. They still exist on every block. You’re supposed to register before the age of 6. You’re supposed to pay a monthly quota to be a member. You’re supposed to attend all their meetings. The reality is, since 1991, most people don’t attend the meetings. A lot of people, if not the majority, don’t pay their quotas. And yet, this network, which is comprised of millions of Cubans, is very active. Fidel called them 1 million “mouth-shutters.” They were designed to shut people up, and they do that. They are supposed to call out those who publicly protest or publicly complain, in any way, shape or form, the existence of the state, the policies of the state, etc.
So, what evidence have you seen that members of these revolutionary defense committees were part of the very successful suppression of the protesters on Monday?
Yeah, we saw the rehashing of tactics that really the CDRs have not used in decades. In particular, the use of the meeting of repudiation. This is where you get groups of activists from either your local CDR, or people from other CDRs to go to neighborhoods, stand in front of the house of a dissident or somebody who sympathizes with the dissidents, shout slogans, they intimidate, they taunt. This is a tactic that really was on display in 1980 when more than 120,000 Cubans registered to leave the country during the Mariel boatlift. What’s different here is the reality that yesterday we saw meetings of repudiation taking place livestreamed on Facebook by their victims. And these people didn’t want to leave the country. They wanted to stay. All they wanted to do was leave their home, so they could go out onto the street and march peacefully and protest for change.
Do CDR committee members carry weapons? I mean, did they ever have that kind of power?
They never did have that kind of power. What they did have was a direct line to the police and to the Ministry of the Interior. CDRs have archives on every single person in their block. They issue political evaluations on that person from cradle to grave, in the past and in the present. In order to get anywhere in life, to get a promotion at your job, you actually have to have a recommendation from your CDR.
Are members of the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution older? Or are they getting younger members now?
Well, the interesting thing is that the activists, the people who are the president of the CDR and they hold these political offices, there’s not a lot of turnover. I know some CDRs in Centro Habana, for instance, that have been headed by the same person for literally 60 years. It is perhaps difficult for us to understand, but that kind of symbolic form of power, where they get to be the deputies of the state and the surrogates for Fidel or Raúl, that is something that really is incomparable in our society, but it is really, really important in Cuba, where people generally live very poorly and where everybody is more equally poor than rich. And so much of people’s prosperity and opportunities depend on loyalty to the state.

This interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.AP contributed to this report.

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