In the landscape of Cuban podcasts, there is not much of a selection of balanced shows to listen to. Just utter the word “Cuba” and see quickly how it polarises a room. Some will demonize the country, while others will speak of its utopia. The truth of the matter is that Cuba is a complicated place — a bit of ying, a bit of yang. It is rich with unique value, beauty, and culture, yet at the same time, it is buried in it’s own contradictions and challenges as it forges a path into the future, all while trying to stand up to its antagonistic superpower neighbor, the US.
Among all the name-calling banter between both nations, sometimes the most refreshing act is to listen to its people. Enter 90 Miles, the podcast.
Created by Susanna Kohly (a Cuban-American based in San Francisco who frequents Cuba often), and Collin Laverty (an American based in Cuba), each show is roughly half hour. Each episode introduces us to someone in tech, culture & the arts in Cuba. Through these conversations, we meet an innovative young mind who loves their country, despite all the blocks they encounter, both from within the country, as well as exterior reasons. Each has hopes and dreams to transform their business sectors into a beacon of light for others to follow. In short, these entrepreneurs are staying, and they are rebuilding their homeland with full conviction.
Given the US elections this Nov 2020, we’re rooting for these entrepreneurs to hang tough for the remainder of the Trump administration, which has been harsh on travel, and remittances for the last 4 years, thereby affecting the day-to-day lives of most business sectors on the island today. If America sees a win of the Biden/Harris ticket, perhaps there can be a return to Obama-era reconciliation efforts. Until then, these are the important voices to consider as we possibly enter this new chapter of US/Cuba relations.
I spoke to one of the co-creators of the show, Collin Laverty, to discover a little more about the process of how these conversations came together.
(Guest #1, Liber Puente in Tech. Guest #2, Marta Deus in Business)
Jauretsi: What I like about this show is that it is born of many viewpoints — from Americans, to Cuban Americans, to Cubans — Was that a conscious decision, and if so, why?
Collin Laverty: What’s fun about the 90 Miles podcast is that it was born completely organically amongst a small group of friends and colleagues. We’ve worked together on different initiatives and we were checking in regularly, brainstorming about ways to continue building bridges and telling stories during the craziness of the pandemic. We came up with the idea of doing a podcast and as we looked around, we realized we had an interesting editorial view because we’re so diverse. Cubans, Americans, Cuban-Americans (and American Cubans). We share common bonds in Cuba and entrepreneurship, with a common belief that engagement is the best path forward.
J: What is the short pitch of the show — The intention behind your curation of people that you are choosing to speak to? Which Cuban sectors and topics are you most interested in exploring?
CL: Our goal with 90 Miles is to highlight interesting Cubans doing interesting things. We’re primarily focused on creatives; entrepreneurs, artists and community leaders; the thinkers and the doers. We believe our two countries have a lot in common and a lot to learn from each other, and that commonality is often missing in the very black and white depictions of Cuba and U.S.-Cuba relations. Basically, to hear from real people about what they’re doing, how they got to where they are, what makes them tick, of course within the complicated context of 21st century Cuba and a long, complex history with the U.S.
J: Can you tell me something about who Ambassador DeLaurentis is (for those that don’t know who he is), and the reason his analysis and experience has a special weight to it? How did he come to join this podcast?
CL: Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis is an important name in U.S.-Cuba relations. Most notably, he was the head of the U.S. Interests Section in Havana (which became an embassy in Aug 2015) during the reestablishment of diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. As President Obama’s top diplomat in Cuba, Ambassador DeLaurentis oversaw a historic level of governmental, cultural, business and civil society engagement between the two countries from 2014 to 2017, as well as Obama’s historic visit to the island. He’s known for his deep and diverse relationships with Cubans at many different levels of society and a strong expertise in all things related to Cuba and U.S.-Cuba relations.
As you can imagine, it’s a real honor to have him as part of the 90 Miles podcast. We reached out to him about the idea to get his opinion and, in true DeLaurentis fashion, he asked how he could help. He’s incredibly passionate about humanizing Cubans on the island. Because the podcast’s audience is US-centric, he tends to highlight what people of both countries have in common; something counter to what the politics indicate. His commentary during the first episode was all about this. He’s one of the people that has done the most for the U.S.- Cuba relationship, so we are lucky to count him as one of our expert voices
J: I noticed your second guest, Marta Deus, shared how both US administrations, Obama and Trump, affected her business as a Cuban entrepreneur. The timing of this podcast is important as we move into the next US election, voting up and down the ballot, for Democrats or Republicans. What advice would you give to Americans to stay informed and helpful, and supporting civil society in Cuba?
CL: The 90 Miles Podcast is a platform for diverse voices that comprise those who are on the island. We hope these voices will help listeners to stay up-to-date about what’s going on in Cuba and help them understand its social, political and cultural happenings. As you note, the first and most important step is being informed. Because Cuba and Cuba-related issues are so complicated, lots of times the opinions of the majority are silenced, and the most interesting stories hidden. Once informed, people will know the best way to play a role, whether it be through travel, business ventures, educational and culture exchanges or something else. But building understanding and constructing relationships is the most important step to push things forward. Ambassador DeLaurentis has a line in the first episode: “Understand their world better and make your own judgments” . That’s exactly what we’re trying to do.
J: Lastly, the podcast host, Susanna, had worked with Google Cuba for several years under the Obama years which yielded many landmark moments such as the installation of Google servers on Cuban soil. This allowed for quicker speed on products such as YouTube, for example. Are there any more efforts to create connectivity for the Cuban people? Or does this remain to be seen?
CL: Internet is something that we cover a lot in the podcast, mainly because it’s a backdrop to almost everything in Cuba, and because there is a high expectation for it. Cubans want to join the rest of the world in having quick, instantaneous access to information. It’s evident in everything they’ve already achieved despite being so bandwidth constrained. It’s 2020, and the internet is the fabric that binds us. Susanna’s involvement in the Podcast is completely in her personal capacity, because she is passionate about amplifying the voices of everyday Cubans.
Listen to 90 Miles on Apple, Spotify or Soundcloud.
Marlon White Luna
Special Thanks to Ambassador Jeffrey DeLaurentis