A love for politics and foreign affairs led James ‘Jim’ Bruno to the kind of life that script writers can only dream up. James took time out of his schedule earlier this month to talk with us about some of his experiences as a U.S. diplomat in Cuba, attending meetings at the White House with the Clinton administration and landing three of his four political thrillers, as well as his non fiction book, on foreign policy on the Amazon Kindle Bestseller list. Following the release of his latest thriller, Havana Queen, he was even denounced by the Castro propaganda machine as “a Yankee spy.” Here is what he shared with us:
What led you to become a U.S. Diplomat?
I grew up with a fascination for politics and current affairs, so early on I made it a goal to become a diplomat. My first jobs were as a news reporter, so I had a background in writing prior to becoming a book author. I then joined the U.S Department of State, where I served as a diplomat for 23 years. My assignments included Cuba, Guantanamo Naval Base (as a liaison with the Cuban military), Pakistan, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Cambodia and Washington, D.C. My role in Cuba was to monitor human rights issues, and to make sure that returned migrants weren’t being persecuted. I developed a fascination with Cuba as a kid when my parents sponsored a Cuban refugee family. Many years later, I not only served in Cuba on short diplomatic assignments, but also participated in talks with the Cuban military on “The Line” at Guantanamo Naval Base.
What are your lasting impressions of Cuba after spending so much time there?
Primarily the Cuban people; I love the way they are so spontaneous. I was able to visit their homes and get a real insight into their daily lives. It’s a fascinating combination; the deterioration of their surroundings, the once majestic buildings, now in a state of disrepair, and yet, people just make the best of things. I love the music, which infuses the air everywhere in Cuba, and the vivaciousness of the people. Their anticipation of change gets under one’s skin. Cubans have one eye on the dinner table and one eye on the clock. Scraping enough resources to feed their families is a daily challenge.
What do you think will be the impact of the changes the Obama Administration has proposed?
I support the President’s decision, but also know that it is a long-term thing and it is going to take time for changes to come about. Congress is in no hurry to do away with the embargo and Cuba itself isn’t ready for mass North American tourism. The infrastructure is bad and so is the service. Hotels are not great, and goods are very expensive. Tourism is essentially run by the military. I think there will be mixed opinions from U.S. tourists who do eventually visit.
And what can the Cuban people anticipate?
When I was in Cuba I was always being asked when normalization of relations would come. The current U.S. embargo has allowed the regime to blame the U.S., for what is really five decades of socialist mismanagement. Once the embargo is finally lifted the regime will be seen as the ’emperor who has no clothes’. I am actually writing an article about this in an upcoming edition of Foreign Policy Magazine.
Is it true that you were recently denounced by the Castro regime?
It is true and I was honored. My latest book Havana Queen, plays out a scenario involving the cataclysmic downfall of the Castro regime. Digital editions have been circulating in the island and the response from the Castro government was swift. They denounced me as a “yankee ex-intelligence officer” who helped “carry out subversive actions against the Cuban government.” It’s very laughable.
Speaking of your book, how has the internet age influenced writers such as yourself?
Very positively. It has enabled us authors to get our books out there a lot more easily and cheaply. It has also allowed us to engage with our audience without traveling around on book tours. It used to be book signings where you went to interact with readers, but now you can do it from behind your laptop.
How do you like to spend your spare time?
When I’m not writing, I’m often putting together articles for magazines such as Politico and Foreign Policy Magazine. I like to straighten out some of the misinformation that’s out there regarding U.S. foreign policy. (Check out here and here for good reads.)
Thank you for sharing your incredible work, James. For excerpts of James’ bestselling books, be sure to check out his blog as well as Amazon and stay tuned for his upcoming piece in Foreign Policy Magazine.