The Curious Double life of Art Dealer Brent Sikkema, Murdered in Brazil by a Cuban National

Sikkema left a trail of property and disputes on the island. (Instagram/Brent Sikkema)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, February 10, 2024 — Brent Sikkema and his alleged killer met through a help-wanted ad. The American art dealer needed someone to look after his house in Havana’s Kohly neighborhood. Around twenty candidates responded to the job listing that Sikkema posted on the island’s best-known online classified ad site. Among them was Alejandro Triana Prévez, who got the job. He is now being detained in Brazil and has confessed to the murder of his former employer.

Sikkema, who was killed on January 14 in Rio de Janeiro, left behind a trail of property and disputes on the island. Trying to follow the art dealer’s footsteps around Havana at times feels like walking around in circles, or like trying to read a fuzzy x-ray of the small local art world.

Sikkema pioneered travel to Cuba when it was a destination off limits to American tourists, ultimately establishing a base of operations on the island. Back in the 1990s, he began creating a network of contacts who benefited from his love of the Caribbean, of art and of young men. After his murder, many of those he had favored chose to remain silent.

“He helped several people leave the island when the situation became difficult but, once overseas, some continued to live off the financial aid that he provided them”

“He helped several people leave the island when the situation became difficult. Some continued to live off the financial aid that he provided them even after they had left” says one of those who benefitted from the art dealer’s deep pockets and open wallet. “Several are Cuban like me. Almost all are young, attractive, have dark complexions and are involved, in one way or another, with the arts or acting. He lent us a hand.”

Bruno, as he prefers to be called for this article in order to protect his privacy, describes what he calls Sikkema’s modus operandi. “He really liked men who were athletic, dark-skinned and young, very young. I met him at a party that was being given at the house of a well-known Cuban movie actor. It was where the ’high society’ of the art world and Americans with money rubbed shoulders.”

The mansion Sikkema bought for one of his lovers on I Street in Havana’s Vedado district. (14ymedio)

Several other such encounters gave Bruno a glimpse into Sikkema’s life in Cuba. “He got one of his first Cuban lovers, Carlos R. M., out of the country. First, he bought him a house in Vedado, on I Street, between 9th and 11th streets. But once [Carlos] decided to emigrate, they put it in the name of an uncle who really didn’t live in it. The man is very old and he only shows up on the deed.”

Due to legal restrictions on the ability of non-resident foreigners to acquire property on the island, the search for reliable front men to act as owners of his real estate purchases was a constant concern during Sikkema’s time in Cuba. On several occasions, he made the wrong bet. Bruno even believes that disputes over some of the properties may have contributed to Sikkema’s murder. “There was a lot of money at stake,” he says.

Bruno reports that the mansion — with its garden, stately portal, semicircular arches and solid columns that welcome the visitors — “is now being used as a warehouse for things that Brent had not yet placed in the other houses.” After Carlos R. M. moved to the United States, Julio César P. M., the director of one of the most prestigious art schools in Havana, looked after it for a time.

“Everybody wanted in on the action because he was known to be generous, though it was also known that he had HIV and had infected several of his lovers”

A network of young people with ties to the island’s the art scene wove itself around the gallery owner. “Everybody wanted in on the action because he was known to be generous. It was also known that he had HIV and had infected several of his lovers, though he did help them a lot. He paid for apartments in Havana, Panama, Mexico City and New York,” says Bruno

Young artists suddenly found their work being shown at exhibitions in the Big Apple. Painters who came out of nowhere were included in prestigious gallery catalogues. People working at Cuban institutions went from living in flimsy houses to living in palaces in desirable areas. All were recipients of the broad swath of gifts, perks and aid that Sikkema doled out.

With the gallery owner now dead, many of them are looking for ways to “freeze things, to keep properties and assets that don’t belong to them,” Bruno complains. The house on I Street was left to Julio César P. M. thanks to his close family ties to Alejandro P. B., a young artist Sikkema took under his wing, who has garnered media attention for his relationship with a famous Cuban actress.

Isolda, a friend of Sikkema who lives in Havana, reports that the mansion in Vedado is still in need of repairs requiring a sizable financial investment. “Just buying it must have cost a lot of money given its size and location,” she says. Isolda, who is very familiar with of the gallery owner’s business and personal affairs, was interviewed by 14ymedio in connection with a previous article on the murder.

“Everything in his life was moving very fast in recent years and he was increasingly using drugs. Before 2017 it was an occasional thing but later he was doing it was more and more”

“Everything in his life was moving very fast in recent years and he was increasingly using drugs. Before 2017 it was an occasional thing but later he was doing it was more and more. I don’t know how he bought something like that here in Havana,” she says. “I think he was depressed over the messy separation he was going through,” a reference to divorce proceedings with his Cuban husband, 53-year-old Daniel García Carrera, who has used Sikkema’s last name since the two were married and who Brazilian police believe planned the murder.

Matt, a New York friend of the couple whose name has been changed for this article, claims that it was Daniel who asked Brent for a divorce, that it was the art dealer’s frenetic lifestyle that led to the breakup. The couple had been married for fifteen years. “At first, they seemed happy and very content but then everything began to get complicated,” claims Matt.

The relationship also suffered from Sikkema’s frequent trips to Brazil, where he bought two houses, one of them the house in the Rio’s affluent Botanical Garden neighborhhood, where he was murdered. Sources close to the Brazilian police investigation report that Sikkema regularly frequented gay bath houses, “looking for young men to take home, promising them gifts and a better life.”

“He was looking rushed, nervous and sad during recent visits to Havana and claimed it was because of the divorce and because he saw little of his son”

Isolda describes Sikkema as looking rushed, nervous and sad during recent visits to Havana. “He claimed it was because of the divorce and because he saw little of his son, so I turned a blind eye to all the excesses because, otherwise, he was a man with a very good heart and we had to protect him from those who wanted to empty his wallet,” she says.

Isolda has no qualms including in that group of “opportunists and profiteers” a woman named Belkis Z. M., a university professor and cousin of Daniel who agreed to let the couple put the penthouse on G Street, between 19th and 21st streets in Vedado, in her name. Brent Sikkema bought the property for the couple’s now 13-year-old son. All  attempts by 14ymedio to contact the cousin have, thus far, been unsuccessful.

“Brent bought the apartment to put it in their son’s name once he got Cuban citizenship but the paperwork was tied up at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs,” Matt explains. When Sikkema bought the property, there was nothing in Cuban law that addressed situations in which a child had two parents of the same sex. Daniel’s cousin offered to act as a front woman until the paperwork issue was resolved.

Her role as a straw buyer came with enormous benefits. “She and her husband, Javier L. F., were living in inhumane condtions in Camagüey, so Brent and Daniel first bought them a large house in that city and later a three-bedroom apartment on G Street in Central Havana, which they fully furnished,” says Isolda.

“Some months later they bought a colonial-era house with five bedrooms, two baths, an eat-in kitchen and a central courtyard in Pera Park, which they also completely furnished. Over the years, they gave her two electric scooters, clothes, shoes, food and medicine.” But financial support for the academic and her husband was not limited to real estate assets and consumer goods. “They paid for her husband’s trip to Europe, which was supposedly organized by the University of Havana, and a trip for her to Mexico, also university-sponsored.”

The building on G Street, in Havana’s Vedado district, where Brent Sikkema bought the penthouse apartment. (14ymedio)

“I think Belkis was protected in everything she did. Her husband’s position at the Study Center for the Improvement of Higher Education at the University of Havana and hers at the Heritage department meant both were very well-connected politically. The irony of all this is that most of the materials that professors in her department have were provided by Brent and Daniel, whom she later betrayed.”

In the midst of the divorce proceeding, which had begun a year earlier, Daniel traveled to Havana in January 2023 to ask his cousin to transfer title to the apartment in order to finalize the paperwork so he could get a license to rent it to foreigners. Belkis seems to have changed her mind, however, and demanded he pay her $20,000 to make the transfer. “She later wrote directly to Sikkema asking for even more, $50,000, to hand over the property,” says Isolda.

After one thing or another, Alejandra Triana Prévez decied to leave Cuba. He arrived in Brazil in 2022. Several sources independently confirm that he reestablished contact with Sikkema, and even visited him at the house in Rio, in July of 2023. “Evidence shows that the next time he was in that house was when he killed him. Security cameras show he waited outside for fourteen hours before going in,” says one.

Isolda states that, following Sikkema’s murder and Triana Prévez’ arrest by Brazilian police, Belkis quickly forwarded a message to several friends, which she had allegedly received in an email, telling her she would be killed if she did not hand over the apartment. “But, as far as we know, the police have not questioned her and she is trying to divert attention from the robbery she committed,” claims Isolda

Evidence indicates that the last time he was in the house was when he committed the murder.

Triana Prévez’s sister sent an audio recording to his lawyers in Brazil that the press there reported was intended as a testament to the young man’s character. In it, she describes him as someone who is “easily manipulated.” After his arrest, he told police that someone had put something in his drink at a bar before he committed the crime and that the murder was not his idea.

The investigation took a dramatic turn, however, after Brazilian media outlets reported on Friday that Triana Prévez had made a new statement claiming that Daniel Sikkema hired him to kill his husband in exchange for $200,000. The killer alleged that Daniel mailed him, from New York, a duplicate key to the house in Rio de Janeiro so he could slip in unnoticed.

Sources close to Daniel Sikkema have told 14ymedio that he denies everything, claiming that the key was sent to to the gallery owner himself and at a much earlier date, in April 2022. “It was sent by FedEx to a Brazilian named Fabio. Daniel ordered him to evict his cousin, who was staying at the apartment after maxillofacial surgery. They threw her out and changed the locks on the door,” one of the sources states.

Isolda, the gallery owner’s friend, cannot hide her dismay. “There are several people who have benefitted from this death,” she says. “People here in Cuba and in other countries with money, houses, cars and assets that do not belong to them. Now they look the other way, hoping this doesn’t affect them and that they will get to keep it all. There are many people who could have wanted him dead for any of those things.”


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