BSR Magazine Show – Cuba Special (15 minute version) – October 27, 2016

BSR Magazine Show #12A

“Cuba Special (15 minute version)”

October 27, 2016

Hosted by James M. Branum

A production of with support from the Upwave Media project of the Center for Conscience in Action

The Malecon, Havana, Cuba

NOTE: The following set of notes is a rough script that I used, however, it is not an exact script as I made some changes as I read it as well as in editing.


Welcome to a special program of the BSR Magazine show from for October 27, 2016


Your host for today is James Branum and this program will be all about my recent trip to Cuba!


I will be talking about my experiences in travel, the food, the culture and especially my visit to the Correspondence Department of the famous shortwave broadcaster, Radio Havana Cuba, mixed in with some of the sounds I recorded while on my journey, so stay tuned.

I’ll also be talking a bit about the ways that Cuban society is changing and how much it defies the expectations we in the US may have of it.

Also I want to let you know that the full program is one hour long but not every station is airing the full hour. For listeners on Channel 292 from Rohrbach, Germany and Unique Radio 3210 in Halls Creek, Australia will hear the whole program, but our listeners on other stations will only hear the first part of the program, so please go to our website to hear the entire broadcast. Also I will have lots of pictures and other materials online as well, which can all be found at


(Music or street sounds here)


The trip itself – A bit more complicated than expected but also fairly smooth, involving a flight from Fort Lauderdale, Florida to Santa Clara, Cuba, then a taxi ride to downtown Santa Clara, then a Viazul bus ride from Santa Clara to Havana. I was blessed to get to experience a small taste of the city of Che, Santa Clara, but mostly spent my time in the Viejo and Centro districts of Havana, staying in a wonderful little Casa Particular (or Guest house) in Viejo, only a 100 meters or so from the Malecon, on a side street of Avenida Prada.

The logistics were not bad, thanks to the arrangements made by Jet Blue Airlines to help make the dealings with the US and Cuban authorities go as smooth as possible. For most US travelers, one only needs a US passport and $50 to purchase a Cuban tourist visa at the airport in the US, as well as to complete an affidavit for the US authorities that attests to the fact that the US traveler is going to Cuba for one of the approved reasons and not just pure recreational tourism. I will go into more detail about all of this on the Cuba section of the BSR website, but overall this part wasn’t bad at all. Generally I was treated with kindness and respect by both US and Cuban authorities throughout the trip.

Language was more of a challenge. My only formal Spanish training was two years of study in high school, 23 or so years ago, with a little bit of informal learning since then, so I was pushed to the max to communicate. Thankfully most folks I met are eager to communicate, and normally I could have decent conversations, often mixing a little of English and Spanish as needed. Still the amount of negotiating regarding taxis, travel, etc, was not easy.

(Music or street sounds here)

The culture of Cuba was glorious. I only got to experience a little bit of in my 3 short days in Cuba, but what I saw was pretty awesome. Lots and lots of music, everywhere. In restaurants and tourist areas I heard lots of traditional Cuban music, while on the radio I heard traditional Cuban music, but also lots and lots of Jazz, a little bit of classical and a surprising amount of the Beatles. But when on the streets, riding taxis, etc, the main music folks were playing was hip-hop, mostly in Espanol but a good bit in English too, most of which seemed to be downloaded from the Internet.

Lots and lots of people were outside everywhere. It reminded me some of the plazas in small town Mexico but in Havana it was everywhere, especially at night. The public spaces, plazas, the Malecon (the grand Ocean-side walk) were full of people, but also the side streets. People hanging around, talking, flirting, singing, drinking and often playing dominoes, sometimes at a table on the sidewalk and sometimes on a table set up in the middle of the street!

beautiful Havana

There were of course some folks hustling, selling fake cigars, looking for taxi customers but overall it felt pretty safe to be walking around at night. While I wouldn’t be naïve enough to suggest that there are no dangerous places to be in Cuba, I do think that generally be out in public places is very safe. The police were present (armed only with billy clubs and walkie talkies) but not overbearing.

One of the sadder things about Havana that I saw was the prostitution. As a solo male traveler, I was approached by quite a few women (and a few Johns) who were offering services. This got pretty old (especially when I just wanted to sit and enjoy a walk on the Malecon), but I also know that this is one of the ugly parts of Western tourism.  In many parts of the world, the gaps between locals and international travelers creates some ugly forms of exploitation. I don’t have any clear answers, except that I tried to be kind but also clear in saying “no” to these kinds of offers.

(Music or street sounds here)

The food in Cuba —- not tourist friendly, but if you are a little bit adventuresome and enjoy a bargain, it is pretty awesome…
Of course there were some decent restaurants aimed at tourists but I wanted to save money and eat more like local folks eat, so I instead spent most of my dining dollars at little tiny restaurants, often curiously labled as “cafeterias” but there were not cafeterias as we think of them in the USA. The feature foods were normally ham and cheese sandwiches, and various kinds of dishes served with either rice, black beans, or a mix of both called “Cristianos y Moros,” literally translated as a Christians and Moors. To drink, the main attraction was Café Cubano, which is strong espresso coffee served with raw sugar, but one could also have colas, bottled water and fruit punch.  Meal prices varied but were generally very low, — speaking of that, we’ll talk more about the money situation later in this broadcast.


talk about Ropa vieja
As for alcoholic drinks, places aimed at locals generally served rum (several brands, sometimes served in a 200 Ml juice-box style container) and beer, most often Cervesa Cristal, a basic but tasty lager brewed with only water, barley, hops, sugar and yeast. For fancier places, the best drink was in my opinion the classic mojito, made with 3 year old Havana Club rum. International hotels served a broader variety of mixed drinks but at higher prices.

(Music or street sounds here)


I am a long-time listener and fan of Radio Havana Cuba, so I didn’t want to pass up the chance to visit the station.

(RHC sounds)

After a series of emails, I made arrangements to get to meet Irma with the Correspondence Department of RHC in her offices about a block away from the RHC studios, located in the building of Radio Progresso.

Irma was a very gracious host and thankfully very fluent in English, so we had the chance to visit for quite awhile about the station, her work in the correspondence department and especially about the effects of the Bloqueo, the US blockade, on the lives of ordinary Cuban people. And of course we talked about US presidential politics, one of the many conversations I had with people in Cuba about the election.

Photo: Irma and James at Correspondence Department of Radio Havana Cuba

I have a lot more to tell about my visit to RHC, but I will save that for the website –


For our listeners in Oklahoma City, we are almost out of time, so I wanted to share a tiny bit about the issue of change in Cuba. I talked to a lot of people in a variety of settings. Some, especially young adults, were dissatisfied with things in Cuba and wanted to see change happen very quickly and/or wanted to immigrate to the USA, but others expressed a great deal of pride in their country and the power of the ideals of the Cuban revolution to stand strong in the face of such insurmountable obstacles from the US blockade. Definitely though, it seems that change is coming one way or another.

The internet (and television, by way of the frequently used illegal cable TV installations) has made the excesses of the capitalist west seem attractive to many young Cubans, but also the creativity that has been unleashed by small-scale business ownership, especially the small Casa Particulares and Restaurants, is sparking some exciting changes.

I am hopeful that the Cuban people will find a way to plot a different path. A descent into exploitative US-style capitalism would be a disastrous return to the old days of the Mafia-controlled Batista regime, but the status quo is not tenable either. Young adults want the chance to live their own lives, to be free to pursue their dreams.

I can’t help but hope that there is a third way, one that embraces the value of the collective good, of cooperation and even resistance to imperialism, but also one that embraces the value of the individual and provides more opportunities for ordinary Cubans to live their lives without the suffocation of excessive bureaucratic control.

I myself am an Anarchist, at least to some extent, and my time in Cuba affirmed that yet again. And so I hope the day will come when the peoples of Cuba, the USA, and everywhere else will outgrow the need for state governments as we know them today.

But at the same time, I also think it is essential that we recognize the historic reality of the role of the USA (and before that Spain) in oppressing Cuba. Warts and all, the Cuban revolution made Cuba a better place than it would otherwise be. And so I hope and pray that this revolution will continue to evolve but that it will not die.