Interview with El Sexto (Danilo Maldonado) in San Francisco

Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, in San Francisco. (Regina Anavy)

Danilo “El Sexto” Maldonado is in San Francisco, planning for the opening of his art exhibit, “Angels and Demons,” at the Immersive ART LAB, 3255A Third Street, May 11, 6-10pm. His exhibit is sponsored by the Human Rights Foundation as part of its Art in Protest series. This interview took place with the translation help of Alexandra Martínez.

Link to exhibit on Facebook

Regina Anavy: Danilo, I know that you’ve already had interviews with the Los Angeles Times, the Washington Post and other people about your experiences as a political prisoner in Cuba. Now I want to ask you about your artistic process. How you were able to create art while you were in prison?

Danilo Maldonado: I wasn’t able to paint in prison. I could only draw.

RA: How did you get drawing materials?

DM: To draw, all I need is pencils and plain sheets of paper.

RA: Did you have visitors who brought you these materials?

DM: My family brought colored pencils and pens and paper.

RA: Did the authorities try to prevent you from having these materials?

DM: Yes, that happened. They search everything, and a lot of the things they take away. For example, they didn’t let my mother take in my asthma medication, but I could get pens and little notebooks, as long as there was nothing already written on them. continue reading

RA: What did you do without your medication?

DM: A friend provided it for me until my mother finally was able to bring it in.

RA: How did you have the space to draw in a cell with other people?

DM: The same place where I was living and sleeping was the place where I could draw: my bed. I wrote letters but also spent my time drawing.

RA: How did you get your drawings out?

DM: In Valle Grande, I could always get somebody to help me take out the drawings. Someone who worked with an official but who wasn’t part of the searching, even sometimes an official.

RA: So people were mainly sympathetic to you?

DM: Some, yes. When I was in the isolation cell in Valle Grande, a doctor at one point gave me a sheet of paper and a pen so I could draw.

RA: It’s good to know that there were people inside the system who wanted to help you.

DM: Yes.

RA: How long have you been living in Miami?

DM: I’ve been here for roughly four months in total in the U.S.

RA: Are you here permanently or are you planning to go back to Cuba?

DM: At the moment it doesn’t make much sense – it’s not very logical – for me to be in Cuba. I can’t keep going to jail every five minutes. I can’t help my family. Now I’m trying to start a new life here, and I’m trying to focus on my career. There are a few motives for me to return, of course, because that’s my country, that’s my place, but I’m not sure when that will be.

RA: I understand you’re having a baby with Alexandra. Congratulations. How did you two meet?

Alexandra Martinez: I met him over a year ago in Miami. I’m a local journalist in Miami, and he was there for an art show, and I interviewed him, and then a few months later I went to visit family in Cuba and we started dating.

DM: It was her plan to be together. She went after me. And she’s been supporting me ever since. There have been a lot of dark moments but also some nice moments.

RA: Alexandra, are you still working as a reporter in Miami?

Alexandra Martinez: Freelancing. I went with him to Cuba for a month, and I was reporting from there. That was our original plan, for me to do that from Cuba with him, and then he went to jail. There was a moment when they didn’t want me to visit Danilo. They tried taking my camera away, and then when he was in jail they wouldn’t let me see him at first. They said that I was American and I wasn’t really his spouse. So I couldn’t see him. And then I was with his mom trying to visit him, waiting outside the prison, and in that very moment we hear Danilo’s voice, and he’s screaming, “They’re taking me to Combinado del Este.” And that was the first time that Danilo and I had seen each other in a month. They move prisoners around without informing the family. Families have to struggle to find out where the prisoners are, and it was lucky that we were out there.

DM: In 55 days I was moved to six prisons.

RA: And each time your family didn’t know where they had taken you?

DM: No. But I would always find a way to relate the news back to my mom. Whether that was through a prisoner who had recently been released or a friend who worked there, I would always find a way to get the news back to her.

RA: Were you allowed to have telephone calls?

DM: No. It was always very difficult for me to get to the phone. It was complicated, because if the guards helped me they would get into trouble.

RA: Did you have trouble getting a visa to come to the U.S.?

DM: No. I have a five-year travel visa.

RA: Are you planning to study art here?

DM: If they pay me, I will teach. I’m not a student anymore. I absorb what’s going on around me, and it would be difficult for someone else coming from a different tradition, a different place and time to teach me something. I’ve always drawn from when I was little. I had art history professors; then I studied marketing and public relations.

RA: I understand your mother is in Cuba and you also have a daughter there.

DM: Yes, but my mother can’t travel. She doesn’t have a passport. My daughter has a British passport, like her mother, and I’m trying to see if they will be able to come over here, so I can see my daughter.

RA: Is your art recognized in Cuba as much as it is outside?

DM: There are many people who know me, who recognize me in many parts of Cuba, in my neighborhood. I didn’t make myself famous on social media at first. I’m a graffiti artist who invaded the street, and the people on the street know me. It’s a different type of thing, because bloggers, journalists and people who tweet or do interviews are famous on social media, but I’m coming from the street and this gives me a different type of visibility. For example, on May Day, May 1, the activist who went out with the American flag and was beaten, many people had known him and seen him before, but never on the television screen. Although many people would never dare do that, many people now know about him, like the famous Reggaeton artist, Chacal. They will give a shout-out in a concert, and the popular rap group, Los Aldeanos, who are on film, critical of the Regime, have made songs about me as well. Now is when I’m able to take my career to another level of visibility. I’m really just trying to show and teach others through my own conduct.

RA: Do you feel now that you’re outside that you’re getting more information about what is going on in Cuba with opponents of the Regime?

DM: Yes, now I can get a lot more, but I already have my network and I’m well connected. I know what’s going on in my neighborhood.

RA: Is this through the Internet, telephone, word of mouth?

DM: Facebook.

RA: What was your reaction when Obama suddenly ended the wet foot /dry foot policy?

DM: Unfortunately the issue of immigration and people entering the country is really only a concern for the president of that country. Really it was Obama’s decision whether or not to end the policy. The reason Cubans emigrate is not really Obama’s fault. The blame is on the Castro Regime for forcing people to leave. And at the end of the day, I’m more concerned about the problems facing the Cuban people. Even I could have been a victim of the change, of not being able to come into the country, but really the people to blame is the Castro government. The main concern is changing things inside Cuba. The dictatorship is to blame for me even being here right now. The country’s a prison. Look at all the people who attacked the man with the flag. There are people who get attacked and don’t appear on television. But we need to be very clear about who’s to blame here, because maybe even if they [the Castro Regime] are brought to international trial, they could be set free, and we need to be very clear. Who’s to blame? The guard in the prison? The police officer who didn’t want to open the door for me or the security guard who was beating me up for saying something? In this case both of them are guilty.

RA: Our mutual friend, Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo wants to ask you this question: Was it easy to find a tattoo artist willing to put the image of the martyrs, Laura Pollán and Oswaldo Payá on your skin? Tell us about that experience and what it means to you.

[There is a You Tube video of the tattooing.]

DM: Yes. A friend made the appointment. I explained what I wanted to do. He told me, “Don’t record my face.” And immediately I had a solo appointment just for me. Another problem with art is that tattoo artists in Cuba are persecuted by the Regime. It’s not a legal business. They don’t give out licenses. Everyone is persecuted.

RA: Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo has another question: In 2011, in the first article ever published about you, which appeared in Diario de Cuba, he quoted you as saying that you were like “the noise of the people.” Today, six years later, what do you feel is the noise of Cuba?

DM: I believe that there’s some “noise” now with respect to graffiti. There are a few graffiti street artists, like Yulier [Yulier Rodríguez Pérez]. I love his work. He does graffiti on the street, very morose-looking surrealist creatures. He’s not outrightly political; he doesn’t associate himself with anything political. Right now I’m in a process of war against the bad in Cuba, and even heroes like José Martí had to leave Cuba and go into exile for some years. So I consider what I’m doing now to be part of this process, part of this war that I’m fighting. I didn’t leave to forget about what’s going on. I don’t stop working. I don’t stop thinking every moment, every day, about what I started and what I want to achieve. So there’s a lot left to do.

RA: What about what’s happening in Venezuela. What would it take for a movement like that to happen in Cuba?

DM: No, it’s a different situation. The people in Venezuela are completely different.

RA: What do you predict will happen when Raúl steps down in 2018?

DM: I don’t like predictions. The future belongs to the future. But I believe that what comes after Raúl is going to be another Castro. They will put different faces, different people to control the economy, different people to control different sectors, but at the end of the day they’re all puppets for the Regime. And one day they can put up on the television that so-and-so, like Miguel Díaz Canel, is betraying the revolution. Mariela Castro knows what she’s doing with the homosexual community, running around with the flag, and they’re trying to make out that what she’s doing is not a political campaign, not a political strategy, but of course it is. What’s coming is Mariela. That’s what they’re preparing. She’s taking a political platform. And if it were the sons, they would have created a political campaign for them. But the only thing people see is Mariela Castro going around, touting herself, doing whatever she wants and getting away with it, so we can only imagine that she is staging a political campaign to build the next face, the future of the revolution, something progressive, a human rights activist, a woman.

RA: But she wont be officially replacing her father.

DM: No. I wouldn’t dare make that type of prediction, but I can see that she’ll be the president; she’ll be the one controlling everything from behind the scenes. It will all be the same.

RA: So we should talk about your upcoming art exhibit in San Francisco.

DM: I’ll be inside of a cell for three days not eating anything, just drinking water.

RA: And at night?

DM: Same thing. I’ll be drawing portraits of political prisoners to raise awareness not just in Cuba but also in the whole world.

RA: What about a bathroom?

DM: There is one inside the cell.

RA: Are you going to have more of your paintings up in the gallery?

DM: There will be a total of about 20-25 paintings, all the drawings I did in prison and the most recent ones. They will be for sale.

RA: And this exhibit is going on how long?

DM: Two weeks, but I’ll only be there for three days.

RA: What are your future plans?

DM: I’ll continue with my work here. First I’m trying to take my art to the next level. Not just in the U.S. but in the whole world, the free world. Now there’s a show coming up called “Angels and Demons,” on May 11. Then I’m going to Europe for an Oslo Freedom Forum and Internet event, and then in September, this same show is going to Houston. The goal is to not stop working, to build a larger platform, so that when I decide to go back to Cuba, I will have a larger following, a larger layer of protection. We’re dealing with a group of murderers, of assassins, and we don’t know if they will detain me or not, so I have to keep doing what I’m doing. That’s my job.

Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, and Alexandra Martinez in San Francisco (Regina Anavy)

Note: This interview is © by Regina Anavy

‘El Sexto’ Appears Before US Senate to Speak of Human Rights / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Danilo Maldonado, El Sixto, appears before a commission of the United States Senate. (14ymedio)

The video of Maldenado’s remarks is here. His prepared remarks begin at 01:18:00, and can be read here in English. He then answers questions at 2:18:31.

14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 16 February 2017 — Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto, a well-known Cuban graffiti artist and human rights activist, appeared before the United States Senate Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere, Transnational Crime, Civilian Security, Democracy, Human Rights, and Global Women’s Issues on Thursday, and called for solidarity with the cause of democracy in Cuba.

“First, we request solidarity for the cause of democracy in Cuba, given that we have suffered a regime that does not allow democratic elections for almost 60 years. The world should give us solidarity and should ask Raul Castro for a plebiscite and democratic elections in Cuba,” said Maldonado in his informal remarks before Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American senator who presided over the panel. continue reading

The artist asked the people and the government of the United States to put pressure on Castro to release the “thousands of political prisoners” in Cuban prisons.

According to El Sexto, 85% of the Cuban prison population would be considered innocent if they had been tried under the laws of democratic countries.

Senator Bob Menendez, also of Cuban origin, asked Maldonado if the US government should put human rights and free elections before further deepening relations with Havana, and El Sexto responded “definitely.”

“If there is someone who does not respect human rights and is complicit in murder, how is it possible that they do not have to appear before a court?” asked Maldonado.

“It does not matter how they can help me, but how they help 11 million Cubans who are constantly trying to escape,” he said.

The artist asked the people and government of the United States to put pressure on Castro to release the “thousands of political prisoners” in Cuban prisons

The artist described the violations of human rights on the island and emphasized the lack of freedoms for artistic creation.

“In Cuba, freedom of speech by artists is prohibited by Article 39 of the Constitution. According to this, “artistic creation is free provided that its contents is not contrary to the Revolution.” This means that the work of artists such as myself and my colleagues Gorki Águila and Tania Brugera, who is critical of the dictatory regime of the Castro brothers, is illegal in Cuba,” he said.

The Cuban Constitution states that “artistic creation is free provided that its content is not contrary to the Revolution.”

The graffiti artist recalled that in 2014 he was imprisoned for ten months for attempting a performance art piece in Havana’s Central Park inspired by the novel George Orwell’s Animal Farm.

“During that time I was tortured physically and psychologically by the dictatorship to the point that I declared myself on hunger strike and even considered the possibility of letting myself die in prison as a result,” he said.

“Until today I have not been served any notice of pending criminal charges nor have I been summoned for any type of trial.”

El Sexto explained that he was imprisoned four times because of the lack of freedoms, the last of which occurred after the death of former Cuban President Fidel Castro last November, when he painted graffiti on an exterior wall of the Habana Libre Hotel. The artist was detained for two months in the Combinado del Este prison on the outskirts of the Cuban capital.

With regards to his graffiti and the call he made through social networks to celebrate the death of Castro, he explained that he did so following the example of Vaclav Havel, the former president of the Czech Republic who had a leading role in the Velvet Revolution that ended with The communist government in 1989.

In the police unit I asked the officer: Do you know me? Have I done something to you? If I have not committed any crime, why do you beat me for my way of thinking?”

“Havel advised all those who, like him, had to live under communist totalitarianism, to Live In Truth. To stop pretending that the reality imposed by the regime by force is genuine,” he added.

El Sexto told the congressmen that once arrested he was beaten and tortured psychologically.

“When in the unit I asked: Do you know me? Have I done something to you? If I have not committed any crime, why do you beat me for my way of thinking?”

According to the artist’s testimony, the officer replied: “the laws support us.”

El Sexto accused the Castro brothers of being “murderers.” He cited as examples the victims of the 13 de Marzo Tugboat massacre, the thousands of executions, and the deaths of Laura Pollán and Oswaldo Payá.

“The Castro have supported guerrillas and dictatorial regimes in different parts of the world,” he said and accused the Cuban government of supporting the dictatorial system of the Chavista regime in Venezuela.

“All Cubans are hostage of the Castro brothers’ regime and the life of all Cubans, particularly artists, opponents, and dissidents, are under permanent danger at the hands of the repressive dictatorship. Once again we need the solidarity of the United States and the support of all people of the world,” he said.

“I come from the street, but I did not want to stay there,” says ‘El Sexto’ / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Danilo Maldonado (El Sexto) after his release from prison. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 3 February 2017 — The uniform haircut imposed upon entering the Combinado del Este prison contrasts with the stains of fresh paint on the shoes of the super tall man, who stands nearly 6’5″. Danilo Maldonado Machado, known as ‘El Sexto’ (The Sixth), a graffiti artist and human rights activist in Cuba, embodies the antithesis of the New Man forged by the Revolution.

After being imprisoned for 55 days for painting graffiti on a wall of the Habana Libre hotel, Maldonado was released on 21 January. He is currently visiting Miami to promote his art and to thank the Cuban community there for their support.

His life has not been easy. He was born in 1983 and grew up in the years of the Special Period when the Soviet subsidies ended and the island was plunged into misery. Originally from Camaguey, he had to share a roof in Havana with another family and take on the weight of a home without a father. continue reading

His art is street art. He never went to an academy. As a child he tried but was rejected for being “very small”

“In those years I was selling milk caramels in the neighborhood to help my mother get by,” he recalls.

“Sometimes we did not even have fifty cents to buy milk. The rebellion against poverty and oppression began at that time.”

His art is street art. He never went to an academy. As a child he tried but was rejected for being “very small.” Leonel, a teacher in the House of Culture in his neighborhood, took him under his wing and showed him the first strokes.

“From there I wanted to get out what I had inside, but I did not know how,” he says.

The first time that Maldonado went to prison was due to a robbery at a warehouse on a Cuban Army tank base. At that time he was serving his compulsory military service. He was sentenced to six years in prison. The prison experience changed him “forever.”

“Prison is a place where you find many types of people, with different cultures and points of view. Learning to live among them, to live together, is one of the great lessons that experience left me with,” he says.

His artistic name, El Sexto (The Sixth) occurred to him in the midst of the Cuban government’s campaign to bring back “The Cuban Five” – spies imprisoned in the U.S.

In prison he also learned that respect is not gained through violence but “with principles and with acting in the right way of.”

Maldonado does not hide that he had a troubled past.

“I have been involved in many things in my life that have made me what I am. I do not come from a monastery. I come from the street but that is not where I wanted to stay,” he answers when asked about the campaign against him pushed by bloggers working for the Cuban government who accuse him of being addicted to drugs.

“People change, they have the right to do it. I do not like even the smell of drinking,” adds the artist.

His artistic name, El Sexto (the Sixth), came in the midst of the campaign by the Cuban government to bring back the five Wasp Network spies imprisoned in the United States, who were known in Cuba as “The Five Heroes.”

He called himself “The Sixth Hero,” who represented the voice of the Cuban people, “the hostage” of the dictatorship, according to Maldonado.

Maldonado has been arrested three times for political reasons

“They (the Government) put them on television, like they are part of your family. I want people to know the message of freedom and to open their eyes. So I understood I had to come to them with a message that was sarcastic and that everyone could understand,” he says.

“You cross out my things, I cross out yours,” he wrote, about the stupid black spots that officialdom uses to try to hide graffit in the capital. In addition, he distributed leaflets with subservise phrases and invited the whole world to be free and happy.

“I am doing my work: being free. I would like others to see that it is possible to be free and to break with the government,” he says when asked about his role in Cuban culture.

Maldonado has been arrested three times for political reasons. In 2014 he attempted to stage a street performance titled Animal Farm. He proposed to release two pigs in Havana’s Central Park. On the backs of piglets, which were painted green, the names of the Cuban rulers were also painted: Fidel on one piglet and Raúl on the other.

The idea was that whoever captured the piglets could keep them as a prize. It was easy to imagine what the winners would do with them. The daring act, which never came to fruition, cost him ten months’ imprisonment in the Valle Grande prison.

El Sexto has been imprisoned for joining the Ladies in White in their Sunday protest marches to demand the release of political prisoners

The conditions in the Cuban prisons, the dirt, the bad food and the degrading treatment to the inmates were documented by him in a diary. In addition, the artist was able to take photographs that he clandestinely sneaked out of Valle Grande to support his complaints.

Art and his activism go hand in hand. Sometimes both activities are scandalous.

“There are people who accuse me of calling the flag a ‘rag’ or reproach me for a work of art made with the bust of José Martí. For me what is truly sacred is human life, above any other symbol created by society. I believe in life and in respect for it,” says Maldonado.

El Sexto has been imprisoned for joining the Ladies in White in their Sunday protest marches to demand the release of political prisoners, and has been part of the ‘We All March’ campaign.

Laura Pollán, the deceased leader of the Ladies in White and Oswaldo Payá, the deceased leader of the Christian Liberation Movement, are tattooed on his skin, along with a petition for the release of Leopoldo López, a Venezuelan politician currently a political prisoner in that country.

In 2015, Danilo Maldonado received the Vaclav Havel Prize, for “creative dissent, the display of courage and creativity to challenge injustice and live in truth”

“I am worried about the situation of political prisoners in Cuba, Eduardo Cardet and many others,” he says. He is also trying to sensitize the international community to the drama of thousands of Cubans who were stranded in Latin America following Barack Obama’s repeal of the wet foot/dry foot policy, shortly before he left office.

“These are our brothers, we should unite to help them. As long as we Cubans do not join together, we will not change the situation of our country,” he laments.

In 2015, Danilo Maldonado received the Vaclav Havel Prize, awarded to people “who participate in creative dissent, display courage and creativity to challenge injustice and live in truth.”

Currently, El Sexto is preparing an art exhibition in the United States. He also plans to travel to Geneva to talk about human rights in Cuba and plans to attend the Oslo Freedom Forum.

_______________________________

This article is part of an agreement between 14ymedio and the Nuevo Herald.

“That day, like the kids, I went out to play,” says El Sexto / 14ymedio, Luz Escobar

Danilo Maldonado (El Sexto) after his release. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Havana, 27 January 2017 — Since late last November Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto, has lived a nightmare. He passed from one police station to another until he reached the dreaded Combinado del Este jail in Havana. His crime: to write on several walls a graffiti that read “He left,” a few hours after the death of former President Fidel Castro.

Last Saturday the street artist was released. A few hours after chatting with 14ymedio, on Thursday, the Office Immigration and Aliens renewed his passport and announced that he could leave the country. This Friday, El Sexto traveled to Miami in the company of his romantic partner.

14ymedio. How did the news of the death of Fidel Castro hit you?

El Sexto. That day they woke me up with the news and I could not believe it. The musician Gorki Aguila called me first, then other friends and then my sister who told me, “Hey, Fidel died, really.” continue reading

I dressed and, like the children, I went out to play. First I painted on a wall of a bodega in the corner of 23 and F, and also in other places until I arrived at the Habana Libre Hotel where a person who was connected to the Wi-Fi zone transmitted it live by Facebook. From then, the moment I made a graffiti with the phrase “He left” on the wall, spread.

Soon I went to my house, it was almost dawn and everything was very quiet. When I was lying down, the police opened the door of the room and took me by force. They beat me and threw me into their patrol car.

The did not give me any explanation during the arrest

14ymedio. Did they ever explain the reason for the arrest?

El Sexto. They did not give me any explanation during the arrest and they moved me to a unit in La Lisa, then to Guanabacoa, where they took my phone, which has not yet reappeared. There they talked to me about a crime of “damages. They then took me to the Zapata and C station, and later to Vivac. From there to the prison in Valle Grande where on the weekend of December 10, Human Rights Day, they put me in an isolation cell.

Then came Combinado del Este, where they received me with blows. They practically hanged me and took all the civilian clothes I had. I was forced to wear prison clothes.

14ymedio. Did you have any special surveillance in jail?

El Sexto. Every time I spoke on the phone, I was monitored. A re-educator told me they would release me soon, but I realized that it was to keep me calm and silent.

The children need see other beautiful things, different from what they see in that dogma with which they learn to read

14ymedio. How did the other prisoners react?

El Sexto. They showed incredible solidarity. I painted a lot and tried to get my drawings out of the jail. It was also good to know that so many people were watching my case. In particular, I want to thank Yulier Rodríguez, the graffiti artist, who was aware of my situation.

14ymedio. What plans do you have for now that you are back on the street?

El Sexto. The most immediate thing is to do everything to be able see my daughter. In addition, I want to compile some of the drawings I did in prison and make a book with those short texts and illustrations. The children need to see other beautiful things, different from what they see in that dogma with which they learn to read.

The Punk Who Didn’t Cry For Fidel / 14ymedio, Pablo De LLano

Cuban graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto, poses with his mother, Maria Victoria Machado, at her home in Havana. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Pablo de Llano, Miami, 22 January 2017 — Minutes after the announcement of the death of Fidel Castro, last November 25, Danilo Maldonado Machado passed by his mother’s house and knocked on the window of her room. Maria Victoria Machado opened and her son asked: “Mom, are you afraid?” She, who had heard the news, told him no: “You know this is my bedtime.” He continued: “Well, I’m going to warm up the track.” Mrs. Machado assumed that her son was going to paint some anti-Castro slogan in a city, Havana, that that night had been mute, silent, empty. Free for the cats and for the crazies.

“Have you ever asked him not to expose himself so much?”

“No,” said the mother from Havana. “I admire my son.” continue reading

El Sexto, the artistic alias of Maldonado, left and reappeared a while later at the side of the Habana Libre Hotel. With a mobile phone, he broadcast live on Faceboo, speaking directly to the screen and mocking Fidel and Raul Castro, recalling dead regime opponents, moving through the desolate streets: “Nobody it outside,” he said. “Rare,” he scoffed. “Nobody wants to talk. But how long will you not want to talk, gentlemen?”

He was an eccentric doing a comic-political show in an empty but guarded theater. The most risky sitcom of the year in Havana

He wore a white Panama hat. Sunglasses hanging from his shirt. Under the right eyelid, tattooed barbed wire. Headphones around his neck. He was an eccentric putting on a comedian-politician show in an empty but guarded theater. The most risky sitcom of the year in Havana. Then he asked some squire, “Papi, where’s my can?”

El Sexto took out a spray can and on a side wall of the Habana Libre, the former Havana Hilton and the hotel where the father of the Cuban revolution had immediately taken possession of to set up his first headquarters after conquering the capital, he scrawled: “He left.”

Live. His face in the picture. Risk level one hundred.

He enjoyed it. He looked at the camera and said, “I see panic in their faces.” Six feet five-and-a-half inches tall, thin, bearded, exultant. A Don Quixote crossing the line.

Hours later, according to the reconstruction of his mother, he was forcibly removed from his apartment by a group of police and locked up in the maximum security prison Combinado del Este, outside Havana, accused of damage to state property. Only this Saturday, two months later, was he released.

“They gave me my identity card and said I would have no problem traveling outside the country,” the artist told 14ymedio a few hours after he was released without charges. “I am in good health and I am very grateful for the solidarity of all those who were aware of my situation.”

During the time he was imprisoned, Amnesty International declared him a prisoner of conscience. A campaign on Change.org collected about 14,000 signatures for his release. Kimberley Motley, an African American lawyer specializing in human rights, traveled to Cuba in December to try to visit him in prison, but was detained and returned to the United States. The vice-president of the German Parliament, the Social Democrat Ulla Schmidt, declared herself his “political godmother.”

This was his second time in prison. In 2015 he spent 10 months locked up for planning a performance art piece with two pigs painted with the names of Fidel and Raul. In his 33 years El Sexto has become a heterodox figure of dissent. More a provocateur than an activist, he is essentially a natural punk, a creative thug who in another country would only have paid a fine for painting a wall, but to whom 21st century Cuba dedicates the punitive treatment it considers appropriate to a threat to the security of the State.

When they released him in 2015, after a hunger strike, El Sexto traveled through different countries and explained in a talk that in the beginning he defined his political stance as that of an artist in response to the official propaganda so abundant on the island: “If they have the right to violate my visual space, I also have the right to violate their visual space,” he maintained.

Years earlier Cuban government proclamations were calling for the return of five Cubans imprisoned in the United States for espionage. They were called The Five Heroes. It was then that Maldonado adopted his nickname “El Sexto” – the Sixth – and emerged as a graffit artist.

“Danilo says that art has to be brave and try to impact people,” explains his girlfriend, Alexandra Martinez, a Cuban-American journalist he met in Miami. She says that El Sexto is a fan of Estopa, a Spanish rock/rumba duo, and Joan Manuel Serrat, a Spanish singer-songwriter. She tells how impressed he was when he went to New York and visited the studio of artist Julian Schnabel, director of Before Night Falls, the film about Reinaldo Arenas, a Cuban poet who died of AIDS in exile, and also the director of Basquiat, about the artist who began is career using the tag SAMO (for Same Old), on his graffiti in the streets of Manhattan.

Mrs. Machado says that in the case file the cost of erasing her child’s graffiti at Havana Libre was recorded as 27 Cuban pesos

Martinez likes a drawing he has done in his current prison stay, titled Cemetery of living men. It’s a three-level bunk with a man in the bottom, the middle bunk empty and a cockroach in the upper bunk. “Someone,” his mother says, has been sneaking out of prison the pages he painted and publishing them on his Facebook page. They have a surreal style.

He also writes. He talks about his nightmares – zoomorphic guards who mistreat him; he takes notes of the language of the prisoners – “fucking: synonymous with food”; and directs messages to his audience – “I still have not received news of my case,” “I draw little because of my allergy, the excessive dampness and the lack of light, “ “the boss of my unit beat me,” “only the cosmic knows the true purpose of this ordeal.”

Mrs. Machado says that in the case file the cost of erasing her child’s graffiti at Havana Libre was recorded as 27 Cuban pesos, the equivalent of one dollar and one cent US. “But they do not forgive what he painted,” she says. Maldonado has written from prison: “Imagine how many people laugh about me. I’m already famous in jails and prisons.” Fidel Castro left. The bars remain.

_______

Editor’s note:  This text is reproduced here with the permission of El País, which published it today.

El Sexto Released, After Almost Two Months Detention / 14ymedio

Graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, talks to the press during a trip abroad. (EFE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 21 January 2017 — Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, was released this Saturday after spending nearly two months in prison after being arrested on 26 November of last year for painting graffiti with the phrase “He left” on a wall of the hotel Habana Libre, a few hours after the announcement of the death of former President Fidel Castro.

The artist was never brought to trial and was released without charge. “They gave my identity card and told me I would have no problem traveling outside the country,” the artist 14ymedio within hours of being released. “I am in good health and I am very grateful for the solidarity of all those who were aware of my situation.” continue reading

El Sexto said that tomorrow he will try to leave the country and that they gave him “a telephone number in case he had problems in immigration,” he said.

Initially the investigators who took their case told the family that the graffiti artist would be accused of damaging state property, an offense “that is not included in the Penal Code,” according to a post published on Cubalex’s online site. “Painting the walls or facades of a hotel is an infraction against public adornment. Inspectors of the communal system are entitled to impose fines of 100 pesos national currency in these cases,” the text explains.

In 2015, El Sexto received the Václav Havel International Award for creative dissent

El Sexto, 32, was also imprisoned for nearly 10 months at the end of 2014 when he was arrested for painting the words “Raúl” and “Fidel,” in reference to the Castro brothers, on the side of two living pigs as part of an artistic action entitled Animal Farm. The artist planned to release the animals in Havana’s Central Park, when he was intercepted.

On that occasion the artist was accused of contempt, a crime that is imputed to those who lack respect for public officials.

In 2015, El Sexto received the Václav Havel International Award for creative dissent, awarded by the Human Rights Foundation.

Dissident Group Denounces At Least 9,940 Arbitrary Arrests In Cuba In 2016 / EFE,14ymedio

A member of the opposition movement Ladies in White is arrested during a demonstration on International Human Rights Day in December 2015. (EFE)

14ymedio biggerEFE (via 14ymedio), Havana, 5 January 2017 — The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation (CCDHRN), a dissident group, denounced today that it had documented at least 9,940 arbitrary arrests for “political reasons” in 2016, the highest figure of the last six years.

With a monthly average of 827 arrests, the opposition organization said that Cuba is in “first place” in Latin America for this type of “repressive action.”

In its monthly report, the CCDHRN reports that in December there were 458 arbitrary arrests of “peaceful dissidents,” up from 359 in the previous month, but a much lower figure than in other months of last year; data from January to April showed more than 1,000 arrests a month. continue reading

According to this organization, in December there were also 14 physical assaults by political repression groups against peaceful opponents, 37 acts of harassment and intimidation, and two acts of repudiation, “true civil lynchings without the loss of human lives until now.”

The CCDHRN documented, in December, 14 physical attacks by the political repression groups against peaceful opponents

The commission notes that the opposition groups most punished by this harassment are the Ladies in White, who march every Sunday to demand respect for human rights on the island, and the Cuban Patriotic Union (UNPACU), which has suffered “vandalism and robbery by the police” at its headquarters in Santiago de Cuba and at the homes of some of its activists.

The CCDHRN also expressed concern over the situation of two political prisoners imprisoned since November: Eduado Cardet, coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement, and Danilo Maldonado, the graffiti artist known as “El Sexto,” who is considered a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International.

“El Sexto” has been detained since the early hours of November 26 for painting “He’s gone” in a central place in Havana on the occasion of the death of Cuban leader Fidel Castro. He is being held in a maximum security prison without trial.

The Cuban Commission for Human Rights and National Reconciliation, led by the well-known dissident Elizardo Sánchez, is the only group to record and report the numbers of these incidents in Cuba.

The Cuban government considers dissidents “counterrevolutionaries” and “mercenaries.”

“Get on that plane or go to jail,” Cuban Authorities Tell American Lawyer / 14ymedio

Activists Gorki Aguila and Luis Alberto Mariño and American lawyer Kimberley Motley. (Courtesy)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 18 December 2016 – The American lawyer Kimberley Motley, arrested Friday in Havana, returned to the United States after being subjected to three interrogations, the last of which, held at the Havana airport, made her miss her flight.

“Get on that plane tomorrow or go to jail,” Cuban officials told her the night she was interrogated at the Sheraton Four Points Hotel in Havana’s Miramar neighborhood. continue reading

Speaking to 14ymedio, the international litigator explained that she knew about the case of Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto (The Sixth), and had documented it.

The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) wanted to denounce El Sexto’s case before the United Nations. Motley offered to travel to the island and discreetly gather information to provide advice on the matter. She met the artist at the Oslo Freedom Forum and considers him a friend.

Once in Cuba, visiting the island for the first time, Motley tried to interview Maldonado in the Combinado del Este prison, but the authorities prevented her from holding the interview.

Nor was she able to obtain new information on El Sexto’s case from the Court.

According to Motley, she was interrogated three times after being arrested by uniformed and plainclothes officers in a sprawling police deployment that included four police cars and about 15 officers. Once she was taken to the station she was interrogated first by a policeman and then by an immigration officer.

The interrogations were in English and Spanish, although she was never provided with a translator.

The questions asked the American lawyer were: “What are you doing in Cuba? Are you an artist? Do you know the artist? And the other artists?” But they never mentioned Danilo Maldonado by name and never told her why she was under arrest.

In a second episode two immigration officers went to her hotel at midnight and threatened to put her in jail if she did not leave Cuba. They told her, “Get on that plane tomorrow or go to jail,” recalls the lawyer. In addition, the questions of the previous interrogation were repeated.

She was also held at the airport, this time by immigration agents who questioned her about why she was there and searched her backpack.

Motley says she did not call a press conference, although she knew that one would be held by the activists who accompanied her to talk with Maldonado’s mother, Maria Victoria Machado.

However, the lawyer did have a meeting scheduled with a national and a foreign journalist to discuss the case.

Although she did not communicate with the US embassy in Havana, the mediation of the diplomatic headquarters was crucial to her release.  According to Javier El-Hage, International Legal Director for the Human Rights Foundation who spoke with 14ymedio, that organization alerted American officials which speeded up the matter.

The lawyer has said she will continue to support El Sexto’s cause because “the arrest of Danilo Maldonado has no legal or moral basis.”

‘El Sexto’s’ American Lawyer and Two Activists Arrested in Havana / 14ymedio

(L to R) Gorki Aguila, Luis Alberto Marino and Kimberly Motley in Havana (Source: Rosa Maria Paya’s Twitter)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Miami, 16 December 2016 – Kimberly Motley, an American attorney, and the activists Gorki Aguila and Luis Alberto Marino were arrested this Friday as they prepared to hold a press conference outside the Provincial Court in from of the Capitol Building in Havana. The Cubans were taken to the Zanja police station, but there is no information about the whereabouts of the American lawyer.

“They were going to give a press conference about the situation of Danilo Maldonado, ‘El Sexto,’ who the authorities accuse of damage to public property,” according to Rosa Maria Paya, president of the Latin American Network of Youth for Democracy, who spoke to 14tmedio by phone. Motley also intended to take on the defense of Eduardo Cardet, National Coordinator of the Christian Liberation Movement (MCL).

Cardet his been under arrest since 30 November for “his political activity of leadership within the MCL” according to the Paya. He is accused of “assault,” a crime that carries a prison sentence from one to three years.

On 26 November, El Sexto was arrested after painting several graffiti on the walls of the Habana Libre Hotel, reading “se fue” (He’s gone), and loaded a video to his Facebook profile celebrating the death of Fidel Castro.

Recently he was transferred to Combinado del Este, a high security prison in Havana.

Amnesty International: Where to Write for Release of El Sexto

UA: 273/16 Index: AMR 25/5244/2016 Cuba Date: 29 November 2016

URGENT ACTION

CUBAN GRAFFITI ARTIST ARRESTED AGAIN

Cuban graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado Machado (‘El Sexto’) – named a prisoner of conscience by Amnesty International in 2015 – was re-arrested on 26 November, shortly after the announcement of Fidel Castro’s death.

Cuban graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado Machado (also known as ‘El Sexto’) was arrested at his home in Havana, the capital, at approximately 11.15 am on 26 November, hours after the announcement of Fidel Castro’s death. Danilo Maldonado was on the phone with his girlfriend when state officials forced their way into his apartment.

According to his mother, Maria Victoria Machado, she and his sister were initially unable to locate him, before they eventually located him at a prison later that afternoon. Danilo Maldonado’s mother says he is currently detained in Guanabacoa, Eastern Havana. When Maria Machado visited him on 27 November, officials did not give reasons for his arrest.

On 26 November, according to Cuba-based newspaper 14 y medio, Danilo Maldonado had graffitied the words “He’s gone” (Se fue) on a wall in Havana. The news outlet reported that El Sexto’s graffiti was one of the first public demonstrations outside of the state-organized demonstrations of mourning following the announcement of Fidel Castro’s death.

Short-term arbitrary arrests remain a common tactic to restrict freedom of expression in Cuba. In October, the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation, which like other human rights organizations is not recognized by Cuban authorities, reported 620 arbitrary detentions of peaceful protestors and opposition activists.

Provisions of the Cuban Criminal Code, such as contempt of a public official (desacato), resistance to public officials carrying out their duties (resistencia) and public disorder (desórdenes públicos) are frequently used to stifle free speech, assembly and association.

Please write immediately in Spanish or your own language:

Calling on the authorities to release Danilo Maldonado Machado (‘El Sexto’) immediately and unconditionally, as he is a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression;

Calling on them to guarantee the right to freedom of expression, including for dissident, opponent or activist voices.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 10 JANUARY 2017 TO:

President of the Republic

Raúl Castro Ruz

Presidente de la República de Cuba

La Habana, Cuba

Fax: +41 22 758 9431 (Cuba Office in Geneva); +1 212 779 1697 (via Cuban Mission to UN)

Email: cuba@un.int (c/o Cuban Mission to UN)

Salutation: Your Excellency

Attorney General

Dr. Darío Delgado Cura

Fiscal General de la República

Fiscalía General de la República Amistad 552, e/Monte y Estrella

Centro Habana, La Habana, Cuba

Salutation: Dear Attorney General/ Señor Fiscal General

Also send copies to diplomatic representatives accredited to your country. Please insert local diplomatic addresses below:

Name Address 1 Address 2 Address 3 Fax Fax number Email Email address Salutation Salutation

Please check with your section office if sending appeals after the above date.

URGENT ACTION

CUBAN GRAFFITI ARTIST ARRESTED AGAIN

ADDITIONAL INFORMATION

On 20 October 2015, Cuban graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado Machado (‘El Sexto’) was released after spending almost 10 months in prison without trial following accusations of “aggravated contempt”. Amnesty International considered him a prisoner of conscience, imprisoned solely for peacefully exercising his right to freedom of expression (see: https://www.amnesty.org/en/documents/amr25/2710/2015/en/).

Danilo Maldonado Machado was accused of “aggravated contempt” after being arrested on 25 December 2014 for transporting two pigs with the names “Raúl” and “Fidel” painted on them, which he intended to release in an art show in Havana’s Central Park. He was never formally charged nor brought before a court during the almost 10 months he spent in detention.

Name: Danilo Maldonado Machado, also known as ‘El Sexto’

Gender m/f: male

UA: 273/16 Index: AMR 25/5244/2016 Issue Date: 29 November 2016

‘El Sexto’ Moved to a Criminal Prosecution Center / 14ymedio

Graffiti Artist El Sexto (JUSTICE AND PEACE)
Graffiti Artist El Sexto (JUSTICE AND PEACE)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 6 December 2016 — The artist Danilo Maldonado, known as ‘El Sexto’ (The Sixth), was transferred Sunday from the police station at Zapata and C in Vedado to the Bivouac Calabazar criminal prosecution center in Havana. The graffiti artist’s mother, Maria Victoria Machado, visited him on Monday morning and told 14ymedio that the prosecution could keep him there for up to two months.

Machado’s meeting with her son only lasted 10 minutes, in which the artist was able to eat food brought from home, but still refused to eat food provided by the prison.

Machado said that the investigator in the case, Fernando Sanchez, informed her that her son could be held “up to 60 days in preventive detention.” The official explained that the detention would be extended “until the file is investigated.” Machado presented a petition for habeas corpus, with legal advice from the independent legal association Cubalex, and in particular from the attorney Laritza Diversent who leads that association.

El Sexto is accused of causing damage to state property, a crime “that does not exist in the Criminal Code,” Cubalex emphasized in an article published on its digital site. “Painting the walls or facades of a hotel constitutes a violation against public adornment. Inspectors of the communal system are entitled to impose, in these cases, a fine of 100 Cuban pesos (roughly $5 US),” says the article.

Habeas Corpus for ‘El Sexto’ / Cubalex

Danilo Maldonado – known as El Sexto – at the Oslo Freedom Forum. (OFF)
Danilo Maldonado – known as El Sexto – at the Oslo Freedom Forum. (OFF)

Cubalex, Havana, 6 December 2016 – On Monday, María Victoria Machado González, mother of Danilo Maldonado, known as ‘El Sexto,’ petitioned the Provincial Court of Havana for a Writ of Habeas Corpus in favor of her son. In the petition, she asked the court to order the detaining authority to bring him before the court.

‘El Sexto’ (The Sixth), 33, was arrested on the morning of 26 November. In the early hours of that same day he had painted a graffiti on one of the exterior walls of the Habana Libre Hotel, after official media announced the death of Fidel Castro, 90.

It is presumed that the arrest was carried out with violence. Witnesses said they forced his head between his legs. He was taken to 4 different detention. Currently he is in Vivac, in the Havana municipality of Boyeros.

The authorities informed Maria Victoria that on 5 December, nine days after his arrest, the prosecutor decided to keep him in preventive custody. The investigation is being carried out by the criminal investigator Fernando Sanchez. Maldonado is accused of damaging state property. This crime is not mentioned in the Criminal Code.

El Sexto’s mother also requested that the court order the immediate release of her son. The Criminal Code provides for a prison term or a fine for destroying, damaging or making unusable the belongings of another. This conduct does not correspond to Danilo’s actions.

According to the petition, preventive detention of El Sexto is arbitrary and illegal. Painting the walls or facades of a hotel constitutes a violation against public adornment. Inspectors of the communal system are entitled to impose, in these cases, a fine of 100 Cuban pesos (roughly $5 US).

Machado González also reported that her son was beaten by a Major of the Guanabacoa police when he asked for medical assistance because of asthma. She adds that Maldonado made the decision to only eat the food brought in by his relatives. He suspects that the meals offered at the detention center have sleeping pills in them.

Graffiti Artist ‘El Sexto’ Eats But Rejects Food from Police / 14ymedio

Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto (The Sixth). (Artist File)
Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto (The Sixth). (Artist File)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 2 December 2016 — Danilo Maldonado, known as ‘El Sexto’ (The Sixth), began to eat the food, his mother, Maria Victoria Machado, told this newspaper. A week after his arrest for painting graffiti on a central Havana street corner and posting a video on his Facebook profile, the artist is still waiting to be released or presented with charges.

Machado explained that she was able to see her son today, and bring him some food at the Zapata and C Police Station in Vedado, where Maldonado is being detained. continue reading

The prosecution has not acted to date, although it is expected that El Sexto will be released on Sunday, according to his mother.

“He has refused to eat the food they give him in the station,” Machado said. On Tuesday, relatives of the artist reported that he had been severely beaten and was holding firm against what he considers an injustice.

“Mamá, I have had a lot of aché (luck/blessing) to be a Cuban artist the day that bloody tyrant died and to be able to express myself. I’ll get out of here,” Machado said her son told her, from the detention center in Guanabacoa, a township east of the Cuban capital.

“When I asked the official what my son’s sentence would be for this crime, he told me just a fine, but then he started to talk about ‘historic conditions’ the country is going through and right there I told him that for me the state property demagoguery wouldn’t work,” she explained.

According to his mother, Maldonado has been beaten on several occasions since his arrest. “He told me himself. In Guanabacoa two officers beat him up,” she explained.

Alexandra Martinez, Maldonado’s girlfriend who lives in Miami, said that El Sexto’s detention “shows the cruelty of the Castro regime that continues to violate its people.

“The regime must release Danilo immediately. His life, his health and his safety are in play and we need him,” she said.

Graffiti Artist ‘El Sexto’ Declares Hunger Strike After Six Days In Custody / 14ymedio, Mario Penton & Abel Fernandez

El Sexto’s graffit after the death of Fidel Castro. (14ymedio)
El Sexto’s graffit after the death of Fidel Castro. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Mario Penton & Abel Fernandez, Miami, 2 December 2016 – The Cuban artist Danilo Maldonado, known as ‘El Sexto’ (the Sixth), declared a hunger strike this Thursday, according to reports to this newspaper from his mother Maria Victoria Machado. The artist’s decision comes six days after his arrest for having painted on a  centrally located wall in Havana, the words “Se fue” – He’s gone – in reference to Fidel Castro.

El Sexto’s fast comes amid worsening repression against the dissidence and independent journalists on the island, during the period of national mourning for the death of the former president.

“I had the first interview with the investigator who is handling Danilo’s case today. He told me that as of yesterday my son does not want to eat to demand his release,” Machado told this newspaper by phone. continue reading

Maldonado was arrested on 26 November after painting graffiti on the exterior wall of the Habana Libre Hotel, at the centrally located corner of 23rd and L in the Vedado neighborhood, and publishing a video on his Facebook page celebrating Castro’s death.

On Tuesday, family members of the artist denounced that he had been severely beaten and said he was holding firm against what he considers an injustice.

“Mamá, I have had a lot of aché (luck/blessing) to be a Cuban artist the day that bloody tyrant died and to be able to express myself. I’ll get out of here,” Machado said her son told her at the Guanabacoa detention center to the east of the capital.

According to Machado, her son is accused of damaging state property.

“When I asked the official what my son’s sentence would be for this crime, he told me just a fine, but then he started to talk about ‘historic conditions’ the country is going through and right there I told him that for me the state property demagoguery wouldn’t work,” she explained.

According to his mother, Maldonado has been beaten on several occasions since his arrest.

“He told me himself. In Guanabacoa two officers beat him up,” she explained. The police told her that El Sexto’s phone was given up for lost, but had finally been found in police custody.

Alexandra Martinez, Maldonado’s girlfriend who lives in Miami, said that El Sexto’s detention “shows the cruelty of the Castro regime that continues to violate its people.

“The regime must release Danilo immediately. His life, his health and his safety are in play and we need him,” she said.

Family and friends of the artist are working with three human rights organizations, an international attorney and several local attorneys on the release of the artist, Martinez said.

“This shows how fearful and insecure the Cuban regime is,” she added.

This Saturday the prosecution is expected to rule on El Sexto’s case.

‘El Sexto’ Says Goodbye to Fidel Castro / 14ymedio

El Sexto’s graffiti after the death of Fidel Castro. (14ymedio)
El Sexto’s graffiti after the death of Fidel Castro. (14ymedio)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, 26 November 2016 — The artist and graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as ‘El Sexto’ (The Sixth), heard the news of Fidel Castro’s death while he was on Havana’s Malecon. “People kept doing what they were doing, talking, partying, when the police started to show up,” he says, of those first hours after the news. The artist irreverently took advantage of the situation to leave a brief message on a wall: “Se fue” (He’s gone).

As the sun rose, the graffiti remained defiant and accurate in the eyes of the silent passers-by. “The exterior dictator has died, but the interior dictator still remains inside many Cubans,” Maldonado said in a telephone conversation with 14ymedio.

El Sexto’s graffiti is the first demonstration outside the expressions of mourning organized by officialdom. Calm, caution and silence have spread as more Cubans have heard about the death of the former president.