Vapid Cuban Documentarian Unwittingly Stumbles into Country's Despairs

Jon Alpert spent decades asking incredibly dumb questions of Fidel Castro.


Cuba and the Cameraman. Available now on Netflix.

'Cuba and the Cameraman'
'Cuba and the Cameraman.' Netflix

Perhaps the pedants are right and Lenin never actually used the phrase "useful idiots" to describe communist camp followers in the West. If so, it's only because he never met the filmmaker Jon Alpert. Alpert has been regularly visiting Cuba for 45 years to interview Fidel Castro and in all that time, he's never asked a meaningful question.

You think I'm exaggerating? I sooooooo wish. Consider Alpert's round-trip from Havana to New York with Castro in 1979, when the dictator was planning to address the United Nations. Cuba's army was intervening in Ethiopia, its economy had face-planted, and its domestic misery index was so high that the island would soon erupt into the Mariel boatlift, with 120,000 Cubans fleeing to Miami within a couple of months.

Alpert was the only reporter traveling aboard Castro's plane and spent much of the trip, both coming and going, interviewing him. Here are some of the questions Alpert might reasonably have been expected to ask:

Two decades after you threw off what you called the yoke of American corporate imperialism, why do Cubans still need ration cards? Why is a tenth of the population living outside Cuba? Why are 15,000 Cuban combat troops mucking around in Ethiopia when you can't keep food on the table at home? Are you ever going to hold elections?

Alpert, unfortunately, didn't have time to get to any of those. As you can see in appalling detail in his 2015 documentary A Trip with Fidel, he was too busy on Castro's pajamas and diet:

"What do you wear around the house?"

"Did you pack anything special?"

"Do you take all your food with you?"

I'm not sure how useful that was—even Castro seems barely able to keep a straight face when Alpert clamors to see the presidential bed in his hotel suite–but it's surely Idiocy, the capital "I" not a typo.

Alpert's newest fan letter to Castro, Cuba and the Cameraman, contains much of this same idolatry. Here's Alpert, interrupting a delegate to Cuba's Communist Party congress who's in the middle of a standing ovation for a Castro speech, to ask if she likes Fidel. (I don't want to break the exquisite dramatic tension of the narrative by giving away her answer.) Or cornering Fidel himself in another one of those exclusive interviews.

Q. Do you have a message for the people of the United States?

A. Always a message of friendship for the people of the United States for their hardworking spirit.

Even when Alpert inadvertently asks a question that might lead Castro into swampy territory, there's never any follow up. When Alpert queries the Maximum Leader, during a visit to the United Nations, how he feels about a group of anti-Castro demonstrators across the street from his hotel, Castro blandly salutes the nobility of dissent. "I admire those who are against, because they are active," he says. "They move around. They work." That virtually begs for a question about Cuban dissidents like Armando Valladares or Ana Rodriguez, then both nearing the end of their second decades in hellhole prisons for defying the regime. None is forthcoming.

Watching even a few minutes of Cuba and the Cameraman comes at the cost of a fearful number of brain cells. (And if you sit through the scene in which Alpert's young daughter asks Castro to sign a note to get her out of school, make sure there's an ICU located nearby.) Yet, however unintentionally, Alpert has introduced some revealing moments into his film.

Cuba and the Cameraman is partly constructed from new material Alpert shot late last year around the time of the death of Castro. (He even got a final interview with Castro, though none of it appears in the documentary—suggesting that the rumors that the Maximum Leader's final days were none too lucid were true.) It is characteristically stupid, with Alpert polling Cubans at a memorial rally for Castro as to what they thought about him.

But much of Cuba and the Camerman is more like a memoir of Alpert's many visits to the island over the past 45 years. They include repeat visits with three sets of friends: A little schoolgirl he met on the street; a young hustler; and three elderly farmers who are also siblings. Together, their tales knit into a bleak tapestry of despair.

The three farmers' good cheer about the revolution takes on an air of resignation over the years as the scarcity of food in the countryside leads the neighbors to steal and eat all their livestock, reducing them to hoeing tiny patches of ground for subsistence-level crops. "They've eaten all our animals and left us with nothing," reflects one sadly.

The street hustler disappears, jailed for black-market activities. His family members struggle to keep feeding him inside the prison, while wondering if the government will ever keep its promise to supply running water to their apartment. "No wonder everybody wants to leave," one relative says, shaking his head. "Thirty-five years of bad thinking!"

And the little girl's hopes of a nursing career dissolve into teenage pregnancy and a hand-to-mouth existence as a single mom. Eventually she heads for the United States, leaving behind two young-adult children with a destitute refrigerator: "When mom sends money, we buy food. Otherwise it's empty." When Alpert breaks out a bottle of wine, the brother and sister offer a toast: "To lots of money!!" The New Man that Castro promised to build in Cuba seems a lot like the old one, except older and poorer.

NEXT: Federal Labor Board Reverses Bad Decision that Made Corporations Responsible for Franchise Decisions

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    1. You’re thinking of amsoc. He’s the one who actually ran the blockade in order to tell Cubans that their suffering was wonderful because they didn’t have to ever look at a Starbucks.

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  1. What is it about left wing dictatorships that makes affluent US and European lefties cream their pants?

    1. Maybe it’s just a more broad tendency people have to trust what they’re told, even over what they see. Then these leaders speak of the virtues those on the left dream for.

    2. As a progressive, I am smart enough to know that people need public healthcare, food, clothing, and shelter, and that capitalism just doesn’t work!

      Surely, I will be an important person in Socialtopia, driving around in big black cars for all to see!

    3. I chalk it up to daddy issues. Their fathers who earned the money that allows them to be idle and useless hate communists, so they use that to get attention.


      1. *applause*

        You’ve unlocked the secrets! (give me a break)

    4. Their love of power and control under the guise of “good intentions” and to hell with the real consequences.

      1. Right? When Fidel Castro boosted Cuba’s economy practically overnight, he really fucked everybody hard. It’s his fault that we placed nuclear missiles in Italy and Turkey prompting the Soviet Union to place their missiles on Cuban soil. It’s his fault for this that the U.S. criminally placed an embargo on Cuba, even though they were their major trade partner for years.

        1. “boosted Cuba’s economy practically overnight”
          In what alternate reality did this happen?
          Ah, the embargo… What difference should that make when socialism is such a superior system? Are you implying that without help from a capitalist country socialism is doomed?

          1. 150 countries around the world with the usual freedom to trade with Cuba as they please. Only ONE country running a boycott. So blame the ONE AND ONLY.

            They might as well blame Russia for letting the Soviet Union dissolve along with their subsidy to the island.
            (By the way, Puerto Rico had subsidies too.)

          1. When Batista’s monopoly on Sugar plantations and the like was released, it went to the hands of people who could actually benefit from it.

            If your idea of a boosted economy is the means in the hands of the few, then I highly suggest we end this debate, because it’s not going to go anywhere. You simply don’t understand and haven’t done your own research. Obviously.

            1. Have you ever been to Cuba? I have. My most vivid memory is eating breakfast at the Melia Cohiba next to a pair of Italian sex tourists, one of whom was bragging that his recent sexual conquest of a 13 yo girl was followed by the girls mother changing the sheets. I remember how men in suits came & searched my hotel room after I sent an email to a family member who worked for a US newspaper. I remember how suites in the Cohiba had gold plated bidets, & how I walked two blocks down the street & found a family eating a meal around their dinner table. I could see this because they lived in an appartment building that was missing a full half of its facade: every apartment in the multistory building was exposed to the elements. This particular family was several stories up. There was no railing, tarp, ropes. Can you imagine raising a child in such conditions?
              I have traveled extensively throughout C

  2. Fuck Netflix for publishing this garbage. I was glad they added a movie showing the horrors of the Khmer Rogue, a serious documentary or movie about Cuba would be a nice addition unlike this pile of Castro fellatio.

    1. Comparing the Khmer ROUGE (not rogue you idiot) to Cuba is like Comparing the United States to Mussolini’s Italy.

      “Fuck Netflix for publishing this garbage.” So much for free speech huh? You’re ignorant.

      “NO YOU’RE IGNORANT!!” You sure about that? Because I’ve done enough research on the matter to have realized that being right wing conservative is wrong. I’m embarrassed that I was ever a republican.

      1. Both econimically, if your end is a wealthier society, and morally, if you believe people have rights, a program of classical liberalism is superior.

        I suppose you have some well researched answers for how socialism is superior in utility and morality, let’s have it then.

  3. Oh, yeah? But whadabout the USA? I hear bad things happened there once, too!

  4. Andy Garcia starred in a movie about the life of musician Arturo Sandoval, who escaped Cuba to become a trumpet player with Dizzy Gillespie. It gave a lot of background to the Cuban “Revolution” that is ignored by most leftists.

  5. Cuban literacy rates, nuff said.

    1. “Cuban literacy rates, nuff said.”
      Cuban gov’t stats, nuff said, idiot.

    2. Cuba has always been a literate country.

    3. Cubans able to read what they are not allowed to read.

      1. What? Who in their right mind thinks Cubans are illiterate? They have free mandatory schooling and the best doctors in Latin America XD

        They’re ONLY poor because of the highly criminal Embargo.

        1. I am against the “embargo”.
          But the U.S. is only one country. There are 150 countries that have ZERO Cuba-specific restrictions on trade.

          They have plenty of fertile land. But they have collective farms instead of farmers. When they are especially on the poor side and all that tourism declines, they let farmers sell a bit from their own little allotted plots and food is less scarce. And two or three times they loosen up on the “petit bourgeouisie” and let individuals sell stuff, make a little money. Then they crack down again.

          During one recent such thaw, one man interviewed said he wasn’t going to get fooled again.

  6. A little fluffer action before Ollie and Sean arrived?

  7. TIL that Netflix will apparently fund ANYTHING, including the drivel produced by a worthless Castro-fluffer like this Alpert character. What a waste of camera equipment.


  8. I dunno, I am pretty Conservative but, I found the documentary, and Castro, charming. The three brothers, and their sister could not have been more darling and adorable if you had heaped sugar upon them. The movie showed the repercussions of the withdrawal of Soviet monetary support, but what about the US embargo?

    1. Miss C|12.15.17 @ 11:17PM|#
      “I dunno, I am pretty Conservative but, I found the documentary, and Castro, charming.”

      Goodie for you! You weren’t tossed in the slammer or shot by the firing squad.
      I’ll bet you find the primitive starvation in North Korea “charming” also.
      “The movie showed the repercussions of the withdrawal of Soviet monetary support, but what about the US embargo?”

      So the US being the only country in the world which will not trade with them is some sort of problem?
      Are you sure you shouldn’t start your posts as Miss Stupid?

      1. “The vast majority of those executed directly following the 1959 revolution were policemen, politicians and informers for the Batista regime who were accused of crimes such as torture and murder, and their public trials and executions enjoyed widespread popular support among the Cuban population. Most scholars agree that those executed were probably guilty as charged.”

        As far as the U.S. embargo and it being “some sort of problem”: Yes. It is. In fact, we WERE their main trade partner for the longest time. Once that dried up, their only trade partners that really made a difference were the Soviet Union. Once that collapsed, that money dried up, and that happened on top of the revocation of rights to trade with what was once a major trade partner; the United States.

        “The U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimates that the embargo costs the U.S. economy $1.2 billion per year in lost sales and exports, while the Cuban government estimates that the embargo has cost the island itself $753.69 billion.[56][57] The self-proclaimed non-partisan Cuba Policy Foundation estimates that the embargo costs the U.S. economy $3.6 billion per year in economic output.”

        God bless your paste-eating heart lmfao @ “Are you sure you shouldn’t start your posts as Miss Stupid?” Award winning composition right there. You are a child.

      2. Usually biased anti-Communists lump every socialist state into one archetype. As if every socialist country was ruled by Josef Stalin.

        Fidel Castro was a breath of fresh air for the Marxist world. He only ever executed Batista officials who were, themselves, accused and convicted of atrocities and human rights abuses.

      3. Are you seriously going to compare the travesties brought on by the Kim dynasty to the great revolution in Cuba?

        DUMB. You are very ignorant.

  9. I like how when Cuba comes up, conservatives like to reference their tanking economy.

    Nobody ever takes the time to realize their economy was BOOMING before the embargo brought on by the missile crisis. I consider the embargo a human tragedy, as it’s selfish to place embargoes based on nothing but unfounded fear.

    “America would never put nuclear missiles close to the Soviet Union!!”

    Well you’d be wrong. The reason the Soviet Union placed nuclear missiles in Cuban territory was because they felt compelled to respond to the United States placing nuclear missiles in Italy and Turkey.

    Brainwashing people into becoming conservative (like I used to be) seems alarmingly easy. I find that, too, to be a human tragedy.

    Queue the indignant uneducated biased responses!

    1. What’s your opinion on the political protesters who disagreed with the Cuban dictatorial regime and were promptly thrown in jail? Asking for the people who spent years in jail for refusing to embrace communism against their will (see: utilizing the natural right to a free mind).

      Also, what are your thoughts on the Women in White?

      Not even going to discuss the fact that you mentioned “probably guilty” as sufficient reason for execution, as that point lends credence to the fact that you’re probably a troll.

      1. >dictatorial regime: Batista

        >thrown in jail: Batista’s cronies

        >refusing to embrace communism: again, Batista’s abusive cronies

        *LADIES in white. Women in white is a completely different subject.

        >PROBABLY guilty: You’re saying that if you had no definitive proof of communist insurgents’ terrorist activities, you wouldn’t want them jailed?

  10. Death, depravity and destruction are the pillars of communism. Castro and his ilk were fellated by 0bama and other American and western leftists because they were raised worshipping them. They fantasize about having SO much power and the ability to murder their political opponents and dissenters at will. Alpert sees himself as a chronicler of a saint, but in reality he was filming the perpetrator of malignant evil.

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