Friday, 21 May 2010

In the defence of Socialism, Santa Clara

Yesterday Cuba celebrated Independence Day. Although the country gained independence from Spain in December 1898 following the defeat of the colonial power in the Spanish-American war, the island fell under US occupation. In 1901 Cubans were allowed to draft a constitution and one year later the American troops withdrew from most of the Cuban territory. Independence was officially declared on May 20, 1902 at midday, but in practice the new republic became a US protectorate. Indeed Cuba had been forced to incorporate in its consitution the Platt Amendment (after US senator Orville H. Platt from Connecticut), which gave the US the right to oversee the island's economy, veto international commitments and intervene in domestic politics whenever Washington considered it necessary. It was only with the 'Good Neighbor' policy of Franklin D. Roosevelt that the Platt Amendment was repealed (still the US did not give up its long-term lease of Guantanamo).
Following independence, most cities renamed one of their streets 'Independencia', and it is at the eastern end of Santa Clara's Calle Independencia that today's sign can be found. However it doesn't commemorate that particular event but the fifty-year-old Comités de Defensa de la Revolución (Committees for the Defence of the Revolution).

50 años
con la guardia en alto
defendiendo el socialismo
[50 Years
Keeping One's Guard Up
In the Defence of Socialism]

The CDRs were created immediately after Fidel Castro's speech on September 28, 1960 with a view to defend the new regime against any potential invasion by Cuban exiles and/or by the US, as well as against any internal threat. While Castro addressed the crowd that had gathered in front of the former presidential palace (now the Museo de la Revolución) several bombs exploded in Havana. Thus the CDRs were given the task not only of defending the interests of the Revolution and promoting its achievements, but also of checking on the population for possible counter-revolutionary opinions or activities. This means CDR officials keep files on each individual living within the block they are responsible for and report any suspicious behaviour to the authorities. Obviously what a 'suspicious behaviour' is can be sometimes wide-ranging. Yet as time passed the CDRs were allotted other responsibilities such as cleaning the streets, sorting out rubbish for recycling, enforcing energy saving measures, providing assistance to the disabled and elderly, or looking out for drugs dealers and consumers. Additionally the CDRs have been important relays for the government's education and health campaigns. Finally, as the predominant neighbourhood organisations, the CDRs are often given the task of organizing community projects including festivals and mass rallies.
Nowadays, around 7.6 m Cubans above the age of fourteen (total population: 11.2 m) are affiliated to the 133,000 branches of the CDRs.

Over the past five decades this controversial mass organisation has been behind a large number of political painted signs in Cuba. It has been particularly active lately as its 50th anniversary approaches.
This sign in the capital city of the Villa Clara province, 260 km east of Havana, is still in the making: the horizontal guiding lines are still visible and the red hasn't been applied to the shield on the CDRs' logo and to the shading of some of the letters.

Location: Calle Independencia, Santa Clara / Pictures taken on: 01/04/2010

The picture below shows what a completed logo of the CDR looks like, with the Cuban flag on the shield. The raised arm symbolizes the role of the people as actors and protectors of revolutionary progress.

Location: Avenidad de los Martires, Camaguey / Picture taken on:30/03/2010

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