In 1994, my ex-wife (my own personal Fidel Castro) and I went to Cuba shortly after our wedding.
In those days, Cuba was a closed-off country to Americans. There were no flights, no ships and no way to get there. The only access was as a journalist.
We didn't work for any major news organization then (I had yet to sell VNI to the NY Times), but we had video cameras and that was enough.
We were able to get two journalist visas based on our having video gear. We went as 'documentary film makers'. Thanks here to VJ.com member PF Bently, whose idea it was to get the J Visas!
The big problem was money. As the US had no relationship with Cuba, the Cubans did not accept us credit cards, and there were no banks that did business with Cuba. You brought cash and you had to make sure it did not run out!
We rented a car, which it turned out was a rarity on the island outside of Havana. However, the US government had built a fantastic road system across Cuba in the 50s. That and the lack of almost any cars made it a kind of surreal experience. There were highways as big as the Jersey Turnpike that we had to ourselves and a few ox carts. You could turn 360s in the middle of the road and not hit anyone.
We drove all over the island and because my own personal dictator spoke fluent Spanish, we were able to talk to everyone. Almost to a person, once you got they talking and feeling safe, they pretty much detested Fidel. And no wonder.
He had taken what could have been a Caribbean paradise and turned it into Bulgaria. The political repression was omnipresent. People literally begged us for any kind of free media - books, Time Magazine, even my copy of Yachting World. They were hungry.. desperate.. for images, even if they could not read English.
The poverty was shocking, even in Havana, but moreso outside of the Capital. No sewage. Buckets in homes for toilets. Long lines for even the most basic food every day. And the architecture! That Soviet block stuff for public housing. Nothing had been repaired or even painted for years.
The man was the Stalin of the Caribbean.
However, the point here (not to get too political) was that the video cameras we had (and they were little Hi8 cameras), were also a ticket that granted us unlimited access to a fascinating place and moment in time.
That's the power of a video camera. It can be a passport to the world, even if what you see is pretty shocking, and not what the State propaganda wants the world to believe.