‘Radio Bemba’: The Rumor Mill

Regina Cano

Radio Bemba plays at most dominoes tables.  Photo: Caridad
Radio Bemba "plays" at most dominoes tables. Photo: Caridad

I’ve always heard people older than me use the expression, “They say that…” and from there they start telling about some novel fact that was confirmed by others or, on occasions, by the official press.

Over time, this way of disseminating the news has come to be dubbed by ever-comical Cubans as “Radio Bemba”: An unofficial institution based on rumors that is transmitted with the complicity of whoever does the reporting.

Everything is recounted through rumors -hierarchically- from the smallest details concerning families, neighborhoods and individuals to the most important news, which can later turn into palpable facts by the various official levels, if they deem it of national interest for example.

The great majority of these occurrences are true, for the most part.  But depending on the position you occupy in the communications network, and -depending on the time the fact happened- this news can increase or decrease in credibility.  This is because the particulars steadily become exaggerated, being subject to people’s great creativity.  These same people can also wind up deforming the news until there are two similar but quite different versions circulating at the same time.

But like the old saying goes, “When the river sounds, it’s because it’s carrying something.”  This is the case with rumors because, despite occasionally seeming like gossip, they carry with them something of truth in their essence.  This is abetted by everyone and believed out of hand. These then raise the expectation of being broadcast on Radio Reloj or published in Granma newspaper.

In this way, you can end up hearing about breaking flashes and old news simultaneously, which never ceases to surprise and make one ask the question why the incident was not reported in the first place by our journalists, those stalkers of information, who in Cuba are always so calm.

Information usually circulated on Radio Bemba sounds like:

1 – A truck overturned on the highway and caused numbers of injured.

2 – At a children’s birthday party in the Santos Suarez neighborhood, a recently repaired roof collapsed hurting several children and killing three, including the child who was celebrating their birthday.

3 – An armored SEPSA truck (carrying money) was robbed in the Guanabacoa or Regla neighborhood by armed assailants.

4 – In Old Havana, a daughter cut up the body of her mother and deposited it in the bathtub, where the woman’s corpse was found.

5 – Yesterday a 5-month-old baby died of the A H1N1 flu.

6 – They say that in Miami, etc., etc., etc….

In other cases, the news is in fact published, but you have to read between the lines:

Obituaries: So-and-so died of such after a long and painful illness.  The interpreted real reason: cancer.

Changes: Minister whoever was assigned to new functions within a lower-level institution.  The

speculated reason: He screwed up.


The electricity is not supposed to be turned off on holidays.

The chicken shipment hasn’t arrived at the neighborhood bodega store where people get their rationed provisions: people comment that there’s a ship in port “full of chickens” but that the government doesn’t have the payment and the ship will probably have to leave with the chickens for elsewhere.

How many times has it occurred that the leader of the Cuban Revolution has not been seen in the news for some days and the “ball flies” (another way of saying the rumor circulates) that he had died or was at the point of doing so.

In this way, we lead our lives often without knowing exactly what’s happening.

Officially, they now report that there are four epidemics in the country.  People speculate that these are conjunctivitis, dengue, A H1N1…but what’s the fourth one? Tuberculosis? Leptospirosis? No one knows.

We’ll all have to track down the real answer though the rumor mill.