14ymedio, Luz Escobar, Mexico, 13 September 2015 — Fifty friends of Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto (the Sixth), signed a letter to Pope Francis on Sunday, asking him to intercede for the release of the artist. The letter, published in the digital site Causes, states: “We come to you with the hope that you can intercede to repair the injustice against this young artist.”
The signatories to this letter describe El Sexto as an artist who decided “to express his dissatisfaction with the Government through graffiti and handing out flyers.” They explain that for this reason “he has lived under constant police vigilance and harassment.” A pressure expressed through innumerable arrests, “arbitrary searches of his home and confiscation of his paint cans.”
The initiative, promoted by his friend and colleague Lia Villares, explains that “for more than eight months he has been held in custody without a trial or formal accusations [and thus] we, Danilo’s friends, are demanding his unconditional release and that our most essential freedoms be respected.” The text also makes “a call for genuine and transparent tolerance.”
El Sexto was arrested last December 25, while preparing for a performance that would have dropped two pigs in a Havana square with the names Fidel and Raul painted on their sides. Currently he is being held in the Valle Grande prison, accused of disrespect, a crime which could result in a sentence of from one to three years in prison, although to date he has not been taken to trial.
The letter also conveys the fear of many activists that there will be a possible wave of repression during the days of Pope Francis’s visit to the Island. “Know that many of us will be incarcerated for the sole reason of your visit to Cuba,” it warns. “Our telephone services will be illegally cut off to prevent our attending the Mass at Civic Plaza*.”
A strong police operation was carried out against peaceful dissidents and opponents during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Cuba. Between March 26 and 28 in 2012, when he was in the country, the authorities carried out dozens of arrests of activists, house arrests and massive cuts in the mobile phone lines belonging to representatives of independent civil society.
The signatories of the letter concluded that “the right to freedom of expression and artistic creation deserves respect and value,” such that “our government must protect critical artists, not persecute them.”
In recent weeks, several independent groups have sent letters to Pope Francis in advance of his arrival in Cuba. Among them are the Patriotic Union of Cuba (UNPACU), the United Anti-totalitarian Front (FANTU) and the Cuban Civil Society Open Forum. Almost all messages agree in the request for the release of political prisoners and to intercede with the Government of Cuba for greater freedom and dialogue.
*Translator’s note: “Civic Plaza” is the pre-Revolution name of what is now called the “Plaza of the Revolution.”