FORO CUBANO Vol 4, No. 30 – TEMA: SOCIALISMO LATINOAMERICANO. REVISIÓN CRÍTICA–
Surveillance and control in a socialist society
Por: Alejandra Suárez
The author alludes to the operation of surveillance held in socialist societies like Cuban and Venezuelan, where this tool is still used by its governments to perpetuate control, repression, domination, and thus, keep the political power
For decades, socialist dictatorships have used many tools to gain political power and keep it. The excessive use of political messages filled with fear and anger, the elimination of the free press, the constant suffocation with political propaganda, the control in the hands of a few elitist groups, the creation of a common enemy, who serves as a scapegoat, the worship to a personalistic leader who feeds himself with the fear and praise of its supporters, and the constant and exacerbated use of violence as an expression of a continuous state of struggle, have been some of the most popular means of repression and social control in a socialist society lead by a dictator, who is not only the political leader, it's a kind of redeeming messiah, a divine figure whose work and leadership, will guide a nation through its darkest times into a state of greatness, regardless of the means. From the former Soviet Union to reactionary states in Latin America, these tools have served as a handbook for a socialist dictator, alongside one of the most shrewd, subtle, and efficient mechanisms of control: the nonstop surveillance and the sustained monitoring of those who are suspected of opposition and disagreement with the ideas of the regime.
In the particular cases of Cuba and Venezuela, in the Latin American continent, the mechanisms of repression, surveillance, and control were used for years to the letter, by dictators Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, and now, that the former leaders are passed, its tools of repression continue to reign in the socialist’s societies they formed and left in the hands of dictatorial leaders that are compromised to the enduring of their methods to maintain the political power. That’s how, in modern Cuba and Venezuela, repression, surveillance, and control are lived and suffered by all kinds of citizens every single day. Violence and political repression have reached such high levels, that back in 2020, an Amnesty International report warned about the increasing, systematic and arbitrary imprisonment of opponents of the revolutionary government in Cuba, and the strengthening of the Venezuelan repressive apparatus of the government of Nicolás Maduro (El País, 2020). Additionally, in the case of Cuba, the report warned about the continuous use of entrenched control mechanisms to silence critical voices since the possession of Miguel Díaz-Canel, and the systematic violation of human rights in Venezuela (by a model imported years ago from the leader of the Caribbean country, Fidel Castro), characterized by the harassment, criminalization and forced displacement of thousands of civilians, alongside extrajudicial executions, arbitrary detentions, and the use of torture, which are cataloged as crimes against humanity (El País, 2020).
The high levels of political repression lived in both Cuba and Venezuela to this day, are the outcome of a constant, deep, and stubborn fear carved into the mind of the socialist leader; the fear of losing the power, the fear of becoming the victim, and stop being the aggressor, the fear, of losing the regime’s control by the hands of another revolutionary horde. That’s why, the socialist leaders have developed over the years sophisticated surveillance and control mechanisms to keep their friends close, and their enemies, even closer. With subtle and secretive surveillance mechanisms that remain in both Latin American countries, the socialist machinery fought their enemies (or suspected of being) in an effective way, which allowed them to eliminate them without people even noticing. To eliminate plurality and political competition is one of the socialist leader’s main goals, as Fidel Castro once pronounced: “we’ll see how we annihilate every last counterrevolutionary criminal” (referring to people opposing his revolutionary rule, in a speech of January 23rd of 1961).
To achieve their goal, and easily remove every sign of opposition, Latin American socialism implemented advanced surveillance mechanisms that wouldn’t let their enemies even breathe, suffocating them with control and persecution. In Cuba, the Committees for the Defense of the Revolution (CRD, by its acronym in Spanish) would be the revolutionary collective surveillance system that would be active (to this day) in every corner, street, and neighborhood in Cuba, assuring that every single citizen would show support and respect for the socialist rule, and those how didn’t would become the target of a “snitch” who would report them to the Cuban authorities. Built from the bottom up, The CRD´s became an important repressive institution working for the Cuban State (Toro, 2019), that deepened the revolutionary process beyond political surveillance, creating a common enemy that ordinary people could fight: the counterrevolutionaries.
These tactics of constant surveillance, which lead to beatings, arbitrary detentions, and public acts of repudiation, continue to be used by the Cuban government even today (Human Rights Watch, 2016). That’s how the repressive regime created by Fidel Castro has been able to stand for decades, thanks to a draconian control that included harsh punishments imposed by the government on those who dared to dissent minimally, that pressured Cubans to demonstrate their loyalty to the government and discouraged any possibility of criticism because the socialist revolution had an ear and an eye in every Cuban home. Likewise, the Ministry of the Interior has been responsible for monitoring the signs of dissent in the Cuban population, distributing its counterintelligence operations among specialized units that spy on and infiltrate religious groups, journalists, artists, political opponents, among others.
Similarly, the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service in Venezuela (SEBIN, by its acronym in Spanish) worked for years to defend the principles of the Bolivarian regime of Hugo Chavez, and to persecute and harass anyone how disagreed with him. The SEBIN is the body that exercises intelligence tasks in political matters. They are responsible for investigating officials, politicians, journalists, and generators of public opinion, that has a modern infrastructure to tap phones, hack accounts and investigate anyone who is under suspicion (Bermúdez, 2019). This organization of the Venezuelan state has played a central role in uncovering possible conspiracies against the government and has a considerable amount of resources and power, that allowed it to intervene in any citizen, politician, or public figure suspicious of conspiracy, or other types of political opposition to, the current president of Venezuela, Nicolás Maduro, or the political ideas of his predecessor, Hugo Chavez, who was the creator of this entity of the state.
Even though back in 2019, the SEBIN became a centerpiece of one of the greatest governance crisis that Maduro has faced in his years as president, given the involvement of some of its generals in the uprising against the socialist government, in opposition to the dictatorship (Bermúdez, 2019), the SEBIN is internationally cataloged as a strong arm of the repressive machinery of Venezuela, and a feared and brutal intelligence service that will do whatever is necessary to obtain information from opposition wings and to persecute, harass and monitor in an extreme way anyone who is booked as an opponent of the dictatorial regime. An instrument of political persecution (Calderón, 2019), which its main objective is to carry out intelligence and counterintelligence activities to neutralize real or potential threats to the socialist state, harassing even foreign journalists and human rights defenders, and the destination of most of the protesters arrested. Its main goal, according to its vice-presidency, is to guarantee the continuity of the Bolivarian Revolution, whatever it takes.
From the long relationship of friendship that existed between Fidel Castro and Hugo Chavez, and the constant exchange of ideas and resources that exists to this day between the Cuban and Venezuelan dictatorships, the Cuban socialist regime managed to penetrate the state structures Venezuelan thanks to the door that Chavez opened since 1994 and that Maduro has been in charge of maintaining (Infobae, 2019). In exchange for oil barrels, Cuba sent doctors, teachers, and sports coaches, along with thousands of state agents who could administer the power structures of Caracas: intelligence services, armed forces, health system, economy, with the purpose of placing the mechanisms of Fidel’s revolutionary government in the northern country of South America, thus exporting the socialist ideals of the Cuban regime to other countries of the region, and particularly in Venezuela, where the Cuban regime sought to perpetuate the traditional mechanisms of repression and surveillance that would guarantee the preservation of power of the socialist leader. Besides that, the Cuban regime taught Venezuela to stifle not only civilians, journalists, and political opposites, but also dissident military, who are seen as a threat by any revolutionary military government, which lives in a state of invariable fear that one day the revolution will not be led by it, but against it. Thus, agreements celebrated between Cuba and Venezuela back in 2008, led to the imposition of strict surveillance of Venezuelan troops through an intelligence service inspired by the Cuban, known as the General Directorate of Military Counterintelligence, or DGCIM (Reuters, 2019).
A dangerous combination of these conditions has allowed the revolutionary regime of Cuba to endure since 1959, the year of triumph of the Castro revolution, and the socialist Bolivarian Revolution to rule since 1999, the year in which presidential elections situated Chavez as the Venezuelan leader. In a constant state of struggle and adversity, which socialism has naturally evoked in Latin America, these dictators have harassed hundreds of thousands of civilians and political opponents, who have been subject to a continuous violation of their human rights, when the right of privacy is completely annihilated in the name of the socialist revolution. What is initially a social transformation, allegedly in the name of the people, becomes a dystopia of complete mistrust, where the single fact of finally gaining political power, leads to a delusional state, where anyone and everyone becomes a possible enemy of the revolution. In a political act of destruction of individuality and state barriers, surveillance is used as socialism’s natural tool of control, repression, domination, and containment, and it is a dictator’s most faithful companion.
Bermúdez, A. (2019). Qué está pasando en el Sebin, el temido servicio de inteligencia de Venezuela al que señalan de conspirar contra Maduro. BBC News Mundo. https://www.bbc.com/mundo/noticias-america-latina-48165702
Calderón, Y. (2019). Así es el SEBIN, el temido servicio de inteligencia de Venezuela. RCN Radio. https://www.rcnradio.com/internacional/asi-es-el-sebin-el-temido-servicio-de-inteligencia-de-venezuela
El País. (2020). Amnistía Internacional ve un agravamiento de la represión en Cuba y Venezuela. Diario EL PAIS Uruguay. https://www.elpais.com.uy/mundo/amnistia-internacional-ve-agravamiento-represion-cuba-venezuela.html
Human Rights Watch. (2016, noviembre 26). Cuba: La era de Fidel Castro, marcada por la represión. Human Rights Watch. https://www.hrw.org/es/news/2016/11/26/cuba-la-era-de-fidel-castro-marcada-por-la-represion
Human Rights Watch. (2019). Cuba: La maquinaria represiva. https://www.hrw.org/legacy/spanish/informes/1999/cuba9.html
Infobae. (2019). Cómo los servicios de inteligencia cubanos se quedaron con parte de Venezuela. infobae. /america/venezuela/2019/03/19/como-los-servicios-de-inteligencia-cubanos-se-quedaron-con-parte-de-venezuela/
Reuters. (2019). Conozca cómo Cuba enseñó a Venezuela a sofocar la disidencia militar. https://www.americaeconomia.com/politica-sociedad/politica/conozca-como-cuba-enseno-venezuela-sofocar-la-disidencia-militar
Toro, J. C. M. (2019). Socialist governmentality: Political formation, revolutionary instruction, and socialist emulation in the CDR, Cuba, 1961-1965. Revista Tempo e Argumento, 12(29). https://www.redalyc.org/jatsRepo/3381/338163000013/html/index.html