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“Cuba and the Cameraman” . . . an astonishing five decade journey through the rise and fall of a police state

“Cuba and the Cameraman” . . . an astonishing five decade journey through the rise and fall of a police state


This documentary film is currently being featured on Netflix.

Shortly after graduating from Colgate University in New York in 1970,   Jon Alpert became one of the first journalists in the United States to own a portable video camera. It was so large that he and his wife had to transport it in a baby carriage.  Simultaneously, he somehow befriended Fidel Castro and as a result was allowed to not only obtain several intimate interviews with Castro, but wander the countryside of Cuba with few restrictions.  In his many trips to Cuba over the decades since then Alpert befriended several “regular” Cuban families and followed them through the phases of their lives.  Little girls in the first trips became grandmothers by the last ones.  

That is what is so astonishing about this film.  On one side,  the viewers see a laid back Fidel Castro offering Alpert a beer from his refrigerator then the viewers becomes acquainted with a poor rural family, who have been farming the land of Cuba for hundreds of years.   The film, though, is really about the regular folks in Cuba . . . how they benefited and later suffered from the authoritarian control of a police state then invented their own economics in order to survive the foolish dictates of the Cuban Communists.  Alpert repeatedly visited squalid slums that Cubans got to live in free . . . but had no running water and intermittent electricity.  It is a realistic view of history that we almost never see on mainstream television news.  No other journalists from the United States were ever allowed to see how most Cubans really lived during the best and worse days of the Revolution.

Cuba and the Cameraman clearly documents the stupidity of Cuba’s leaders in becoming pawns of the Soviet Block.  The truth was that the Russians were subsidizing the “Cuban Revolution” in order to create the delusion of an economic success.  Cuba’s Communist leaders mandated one stupid program after another, then were bailed out by the Soviets.  Castro had merely traded serfdom under Gringo corporations for slavery under the Soviet Empire. 

The most illogical thing that went on in Cuba occurred after the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991.  Cubans endured a decade long “starving time.”   It was idiotic.  Millions of Cubans in the larger cities such as Havana and Santiago had no work and very little food.  They continued to live in their slums without water, electricity or adequate food.  These people could have been sent out into the countryside to grow food!!!!   There is plenty of uncultivated land in Cuba.  Any food that these starving, unemployed people grew would have been better than the situation that they were enduring.

There was very little meat in Cuba during that era.  The island is obviously surrounded by water.  The government could have also sent these people to the coast to fish.  I guess that’s the difference in the way that Native Americans think and the way that the people of Cuba had been programmed by their government to think.  

Until 2017, Alpert could not broadcast many scenes from the past fifty years of Cuba’s Revolution, because his Cuban friends became increasingly critical of the Communist clique running the island nation.  By the end of the documentary, several of his friends have either died or moved to the United States . . . and Fidel Castro is dead.  Only then was it possible to screen these scenes without dire consequences for his friends.

What the documentary leaves out

The Castro brothers betrayed the Cuban Revolution.  They followed the footsteps of several other Cuban dictators, who came to power as populist reformers, but inevitably became despots after obtaining unlimited power.  Throughout the 20th century, Cuba lacked the checks and balances that the founding fathers of the United States ingeniously put into our Constitution.

The vast majority of Cuban men and women, who actually died or risked their lives to overthrow the brutal Batista dictatorship, were pro-democracy, pro-free enterprise.  They envisioned an egalitarian, democratic nation, modeled after Costa Rica, Canada and the Scandinavian countries, which would create an environment, where the regular folks could better themselves through private enterprise.  However, the Castros quickly killed off the pro-democracy leaders, such as Camilo Cienfuegos.  

That was not enough, though, as Fidel Castro’s ego soared, he eventually killed off any Communist leader in Cuba, who became more popular than himself.   He set up Che Guevara to be killed in Bolivia.   General Arnaldo T. Ochoa Sánchez proved himself in Angola to be one of the most brilliant military leaders of his time.  On his few return trips to Cuba, the people cheered louder for Ochoa than Fidel.  Ochoa was probably the only pro-democracy officer in the Cuban Revolution, who avoided being executed then.  However,  in 1988  the CIA presented strong evidence that the Castro brothers were deeply involved with and personally profiting from the cocaine trade from South America.   The Castro Brothers framed Ochoa with the ridiculous charge that he ran the Colombian Drug Cartel from Angola and had him executed in 1989.  Interior Minister Jose Abrantes was sentenced to a 20-year prison term, despite his long time loyalty to the Castro Regime.

The ultimate message from this film

When egotistical leaders rise to power, it is the regular folks, who pay the price for their megalomania . . . but ultimately their police states will fall because of the increasingly inept decisions of those, who blindly follow the leader.   One party dictatorships inevitably give power to incompetent underlings, who are not a threat to “the ruling elite.”


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Richard Thornton is a professional architect, city planner, author and museum exhibit designer-builder. He is today considered one of the nation’s leading experts on the Southeastern Indians. However, that was not always the case. While at Georgia Tech Richard was the first winner of the Barrett Fellowship, which enabled him to study Mesoamerican architecture and culture in Mexico under the auspices of the Institutio Nacional de Antropoligia e Historia. Dr. Roman Piňa-Chan, the famous archaeologist and director of the Museo Nacional de Antropologia, was his fellowship coordinator. For decades afterward, he lectured at universities and professional societies around the Southeast on Mesoamerican architecture, while knowing very little about his own Creek heritage. Then he was hired to carry out projects for the Muscogee-Creek Nation in Oklahoma. The rest is history. Richard is the Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the KVWETV (Coweta) Creek Tribe and a member of the Perdido Bay Creek Tribe. In 2009 he was the architect for Oklahoma’s Trail of Tears Memorial at Council Oak Park in Tulsa. He is the president of the Apalache Foundation, which is sponsoring research into the advanced indigenous societies of the Lower Southeast.

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