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Default Activists rally behind Cuba's YouTube rebel, Human rights groups outraged
by StrawberrySun 09-08-2009, 04:36 PM

Juan Carlos González Marcos, better known as Pánfilo, was probably the noisiest of the regulars who gathered at the Villalón Park in the Vedado neighborhood to drink a few.

Now he is, without a doubt, the most famous among them.

He was arrested and charged with ``pre-criminal social endangerment'' after jumping into the frame of a video being filmed on the streets of Havana and shouting on camera that there was hunger in Cuba. He was sentenced to two years in prison.

``What we need here is a little bit of jama [Cuban Spanish slang for food]!'' González shouted on camera after pushing the person being interviewed about reggaeton out of the video frame. ``We're under fire here! Go ahead and tape me! Jama!''

The person being interviewed regained the attention of the cameraman for a few seconds, only to be pushed away once more by González, 48, who went for another close-up. ``We need food! We're hungry here! Listen to what Pánfilo tells you from Cuba: food!''

The video made it to YouTube and received 400,000 views in no time.

It became popular on Hispanic television in Miami, made the cover of various magazines, ran as the lead story on websites, was reported by the island's independent media and the press abroad, and inspired video clips, songs and jokes about the deteriorating situation in Cuba.

Days later, a totally sober González appeared on a new video taking back all he had said and done before. He mentioned that the police had visited him and that he was ``under fire.''

A third video was played later on Miami's Channel 41-AmericaTeVé, showing him drunk again, dancing a rap on the street, and saying the police were going to put him ``away.''

And they put him away. González was finally arrested on Aug. 4.

Seven days later, in a closed-door trial, a municipal court sentenced him to two years in prison. The charge of precriminal social endangerment, which dates to 20th century's fascist and communist regimes, has been in use in Cuba since the 1960s and has even been applied to political opponents and human rights activists.

``This incident was unexpected and came as a surprise because the protagonist was not a political dissident nor a person trying to defend a position or gain popularity,'' said publicist Jorge Salcedo, a Boston resident promoting the international campaign Jama y Libertad (Jama and Freedom), which advocates González's freedom.

The government's retaliation got the attention of human rights organizations and gave life to the campaign, according to its website www.jamaylibertad.com. Through Monday, it had collected 728 signatures, among them those of Spanish philosopher Fernando Savater, Cuban musician Paquito D'Rivera, author Zoe Valdés and dissident blogger Yoani Sánchez, who lives in Havana.

``I thought it was important to give my full support to a humble man who has become a symbol of freedom,'' D'Rivera said from New Jersey. ``Pánfilo did not talk about changing the government nor about democracy, but about a simple and fundamental concern of the people of Cuba: their hunger, which is also a hunger for freedom.''

González lives in a hut with his mother, a sister and two brothers, the only ones permitted to attend his rushed trial. Sources in his neighborhood say he has two minor children, who are not under his custody. It has been impossible to confirm whether he was once a machinist with the Merchant Navy or that at some point he was a member of the Special Troops of the Interior Ministry.

Salvadoran filmmaker Jorge Dalton, who added his name to the petition for González's freedom, said González ``has always been a harmless person.''

Dalton, son of poet and Salvadoran revolutionary Roque Dalton, came to Havana with his parents in the end of 1967 and moved to the same block where González lives.

Dalton said many of the things González talked about were exaggerations. For example, González said he used to ride in a nonexistent limousine with Dalton's father, Roque, who was murdered in El Salvador by his guerrilla comrades in 1975, days before turning 40.

``But it was all part of that unique affection of Cubans, who go as far as telling lies just to prove they love you above all things,'' Dalton said.

The Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation is following the case closely and has offered the family their legal aid to appeal the sentence, which could lead to a new trial in a matter of weeks.

``This is a case of clear political intention and it only shows how scared the government is of anything that could cause street unrest,'' said the commission president Elizardo Sánchez. ``The family is very frightened because they are feeling a lot of pressure.''

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