When White House officials were brainstorming about how to establish a connection between the Cuban people and President Barack Obama earlier this year, the winning answer was “Pánfilo.”
Pánfilo, a comedian, is the star of the highest-rated show in Cuba. If there was a vehicle that would give the president maximum exposure in the living room of Cubans across the island, it was through Pánfilo, officials decided.
“When I first arrived in Cuba 18 months ago, everybody was talking about Pánfilo,” said Jeff DeLaurantis, current chargé d'affaires of the U.S. Embassy in a behind-the-scenes video obtained exclusively by Fox News Latino. “I started tuning in myself and he comments on the way on the way of life and different difficulties that people have but in a way that everyone can relate to.”
That led to a first segment, taped and aired before Obama's historic arrival in Havana, in which Pánfilo, an elderly quirky character who is played by actor Luis Silva, calls the White House to speak with Obama.
Much to his shock he reaches the U.S. president and tells him he is looking forward to his visit to Cuba. He even offers to pick him up in a 1950’s American car – which are prevalent on the island – and to let him stay in his home if he doesn’t have accommodations.
Obama politely declines, saying, while sprinkling the chat with some Spanish words, that he’s got it all taken care of as far as transportation and accommodations are concerned.
A few days later, once Obama was on the island, a second clip came to life showing the president paying Pánfilo a visit at his home while he and his two friends are in the middle of playing dominoes.
“We wanted to make sure that that we could speak to as broad a cross-section of the Cuban people as we could,” said Deputy National Security Advisor Ben Rhodes in a behind-the-scene video, which Fox News Latino obtained exclusively from the White House.
“The fact that we could laugh together brings an important message that we’re really not all that different” from each other, Rhodes added.
As for Silva, he said he couldn’t believe his ears when told of the plan to have Obama and him collaborate.
“I was sitting down, fortunately,” he said of the moment he heard the plan. “Otherwise I would have fallen. I thought it was going to be a serious meeting, I didn’t realize what they wanted, that President Obama would actually go to Pánfilo’s house.”
The director of Pánfilo’s show said he hopes that the skits made a difference.
“I hope it’s made a contribution to this new path of relations between both nations,” said Ignacio Hernandez Benitez.