Imagine you have a couple of drinks — a couple too many — and you see a guy with a video camera filming your friend. You have a beef with the government, say, you think we should be out of Iraq. Or you vehemently oppose health care reform (I’m sure you’ve noticed that there are a few who vehemently oppose reform).
You push your way into the frame and you spill your guts. You briefly walk away and then you come back with even more outrage and you yell your complaint again into the camera. You use a couple of swear words for emphasis and then you go home to sleep it off.
The guy with the camera goes home and uploads the video to YouTube. It goes viral in a matter of days and your troubles begin.
If your drunken tirade had happened here, the internet notoriety would possibly get you a mention on the Daily Show or on Countdown’s Best Person in the World segment. But if you just happen to live in Cuba, your 1:20 minutes of fame gets you 2 years in jail. You would then be granted early release and a speedy transfer to a psychiatric hospital.
Ahh, the wonders of socialist justice…
The case of Juan Carlos “Panfilo” González has been picked up by a number of pro-democratic groups and bloggers, including Yoani Sanchez. Panfilo has become a symbol of the abuses and oppression of the Cuban dictatorship. There’s a website and a Facebook group. Signatures are being collected on a petition calling on the Cuban regime to free Mr. González.
From the website Jama y Libertad (Food and Freedom):
“We need food—we’re starving! This is Panfilo from Cuba telling you: food!” For saying these words on a Havana street, the Cuban citizen Juan Carlos González, “Pánfilo”, is serving two years in prison.
“Jama!,” food in Cuban slang, his insistent cry in an amateur video that is already a YouTube sensation, wasn’t a call to political action, and Juan Carlos González isn’t a dissident, opponent of the regime or human rights activist. He’s a regular guy without much education and no particular social position or agenda, who, after having a few too many drinks, stood in front of a camera to tell it like he saw it. He didn’t advocate social change, civil liberties or human rights. He just dared to exercise one of them.