South Florida Sun-Sentinel
August 20, 2009

Man's posting on YouTube makes him symbol of Cuban repression

Guillermo I. Martinez

As we have found often in the United States, one never knows when modern-day communications turns an otherwise "little man" without degrees or knowledge into a symbol of a country's plight.

Such is the case of Juan Carlos González Marcos, better known to Cuba-watchers as Pánfilo, a thin black man who in a video posted on YouTube shouted that he was hungry and what Cuba really needed was food.

Nobody knew who Pánfilo was when he first appeared on the Web. Soon he was famous. His raspy voice proclaiming that he was hungry was an indictment of a regime that after half a century in power and with some of the most fertile soil in the hemisphere cannot provide enough food to feed its people.

That accusation made by an unknown person with a personal video camera was as powerful as 100 speeches by prime ministers, presidents or advocates of human rights. He wasn't talking about people in the abstract although he did add that what Cuba needed was more food he was talking about himself.

Pánfilo was hungry and the world now knows about it.

But, so does the Cuban government.

Cuba will provide Pánfilo with the food he wanted. Only it will be given to him in prison, where he will serve two years for being a "danger to society." He was tried and convicted in two days. In Cuba, becoming a symbol is dangerous and proclaiming the country needs food to feed its people is a crime.

Ricardo Bofill, who for many years was a leading dissident inside Cuba and knows the island's prisons well, has taken up Pánfilo's cause. Bofill, who is now in Miami and presides over the Cuban Committee for Human Rights, or Comité Cubano Pro Derechos Humanos, said his organization has requested that several governments, human rights organizations and people all over the world demand that Pánfilo be released.

Another Cuban exile organization, this one made up of former political prisoners who refused to obey government directives while in jail, has declared Pánfilo a political prisoner. They also agreed to send Pánfilo's relatives $150 quarterly to see if that would help them buy food to feed Cuba's newest political prisoner.

Pánfilo's cry for food landed him in jail.

It is not a crime to say one is hungry.

Guillermo I. Martínez lives in South Florida. His e-mail is:

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