Cuba: Artist El Sexto violently arrested over Castro-related graffiti

7 December 2016

Cuban artist Danilo “El Sexto” Maldonado was violently arrested by state security forces at his apartment in capital Havana, on 26 November 2016, hours after he took to the streets, upon the official announcement of Cuban revolutionary leader Fidel Castro’s death, and painted graffiti around the city stating “se fue”(he’s gone), reported Cuban newspaper 14ymedio on 27 November 2016.

The graffiti was painted on the façade of the emblematic Habana Libre hotel where Castro temporarily resided in 1959, following his capture of the capital with fellow rebel fighters. El Sexto painted the same message on at least two more state-owned buildings, reported Spanish newspaper ABC on 30 November 2016.

The artist recorded a video, which he streamed live on Facebook, of him painting the graffiti and asking Cubans to dare defy the regime and celebrate the death of Castro, to whom he referred as “la yegua” – a pejorative term in Cuban Spanish that translates to “mare” in English.

Some hours later, while El Sexto was on the phone with his girlfriend, state officials forcibly broke into his apartment and violently abducted him, reported Amnesty International on 29 November 2016.

Moved to unknown locations
The artists’ relatives were not able to locate him at first as authorities did not divulge much information about his arrest; however, they eventually learned that the artist had been beaten by officials and was dragged to a police unit in San Agustin. When the family members went to the station to ask about El Sexto, police removed them from the premises.

Later that day, a plainclothes officer informed the artist’s mother that her son had been taken to Villa Marista, an infamous state security prison where many political prisoners are kept; she was not able to visit him there either. Shortly after, she found out that her son had been moved again to the Guanabacoa police station.

No official charges have been pressed against El Sexto, and there is no official record of his detention. When his mother was granted 20 minutes to visit her son at the police station on 27 November 2016, she found him “all beaten up” and “very asthmatic”. There she was informed, in very vague terms, of her son being allegedly accused of creating “damage to state property”. She was not given any further detail as the officers excused themselves by referring to the issue as “another municipality’s jurisdiction”.

El Sexto was again transferred on 4 December 2016 to El Vivac prison in the outskirts of Havana, according to Amnesty International. The artist’s mother was able to visit her son on 5 December and told the human rights organisation that he us refusing to eat the food given to him in prison for fear of it being poisoned. He did, however, eat the food brought to him by his mother.

UPDATE: El Sexto was again moved to the Valle Grande prison in Havana and placed in solitary confinement without food or clothes, reported news site Panam Post on 12 December.

His mother confirmed the news when she visited him in prison saying that his transfer came because authorities suspected El Sexto was going to stage a demonstration with other prisoners on 10 December, World Human Rights Day.

Additionally, according to the Human Rights Foundation, El Sexto’s American lawyer, Kimberley Motley was arrested in Havana on 16 December 2016 as she was about to hold a press conference outside of the National Capitol Building. According to witnesses, musician and activist Gorki Aguila was also arrested.

According to Cuban newspaper Diario de Cuba, Motley was released the following day after being held in prison and interrogated and missed her flight back to the US after being interrogated at the airport. The human rights lawyer safely returned to the US on 18 December. Aguila was released a few hours after the arrest.

Persecuted before
A week earlier, El Sexto attempted to leave Cuba to attend the Art Basel Miami show. The artist was cleared by officials, but was reportedly “marked” at the airport and not permitted to leave the country, reported Artnet News on 28 November 2016.

This is not the first time that El Sexto has been arrested by Cuban authorities. On 24 July 2014, the artist had been detained and charged with a “common crime”, as opposed to political dissidence crimes, to avoid international pressure and solidarity towards the artist.

He was again arrested in January 2015 for allegedly attempting to create an artistic performance with two pigs, which he painted with the names “Raul” and “Fidel”, in an effort to recreate George Orwell’s classic book: Animal Farm. The incident earned El Sexto the Human Rights Foundation’s Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent in May 2015. He was then categorised by Amnesty International as a prisoner of conscience, and spent 10 months in prison having undergone no trial and no formal charges pressed against him. He was released on 20 October 2015.

After his release, he was again detained alongside Cuban rock musician Gorki and several other human rights activists for eight hours during U.S. President Barack Obama’s visit to the island.

This kind of arrest, often carried out in an arbitrary and unofficial manner, usually during a short time span, is common in the regime’s strategy to thwart freedom of expression in Cuba. In October 2016, the Cuban Commission of Human Rights and National Reconciliation reported 620 arbitrary detentions of peaceful protestors and opposition activists. From January to August 2016, the commission received more than 7,900 reports of arbitrary detention, marking a six-year high.

The commission further reported that two other graffiti artists – Orlando Triana and Carlos Gonzalez – were also arrested in the province of Villa Clara after Castro’s death, according to Havana Times on 6 December 2016.

Photo: El Sexto’s “se fue” graffiti/Artist Facebook page


» Twitter – 18 December 2016
Status tweet

» Diario de Cuba – 17 December 2016
Gorki Aguila: Kimberley Motley “take from Cuba the memory of the outrage experienced in person’

» Human Rights Foundation – 16 December 2016
URGENT: Kimberley Motley, El-Sexto’s lawyer, arrested in Cuba, and taken to unknown location

» Panam Post – 12 December 2016
Graffiti artist still imprisoned without food or clothes in Cuba

» Havana Times – 6 December 2016
Detentions in Cuba after Fidel Castro’s death

» Amnesty International – 5 December 2016
Cuba: Further information: Graffiti artist transferred to new prison: Danilo Maldonado Machado

» Human Rights Watch – 30 November 2016
Cuba: Free graffiti artist

» ABC – 30 November 2016
Dissident artist “El Sexto” still under arrest for making a graffiti about Castro’s death

» Miami Herald – 30 November 2016
Detained Cuban artist who mocked Castro’s death ‘was badly beaten,’ family says

» Amnesty International – 29 November 2016
Cuban graffiti artist arrested again

» Artnet News – 28 November 2016
Anti-Castro artist violently arrested in Havana ahead of Art Basel

» 14ymedio – 27 November 2016
Graffiti artist “El Sexto” remains under arrest, says his mother

» Miami New Times – 27 November 2016
Cuban artist and activist El Sexto abducted and detained in Cuba following Fidel Castro’s death

More from Fremuse

» 22 March 2016: Cuba: Artists and activists detained for eight hours

» 21 October 2015: Cuba: Graffiti artist released from prison after 10 months

» 7 October 2015: Cuba: Repression and resistance – story of ‘The Sixth Prisoner’

» 28 August 2015: Cuba: Imprisoned artist El Sexto on hunger strike

» 26 January 2015: Cuba: Grafitti artist arrested over insulting leaders

» 14 July 2014: Cuba: Graffiti artist El Sexto charged and detained

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