Cuban visual artist Danilo Maldonado (El Sexto) was arrested last week after publicly celebrating the death of dictator Fidel Castro. He has reportedly refused to eat prison food, claiming that the state is slipping sleeping pills into his food to prevent him from shouting, “down with Castro,” in his jail cell.
Maldonado, commonly known by his artistic name El Sexto, has been in jail since Friday, November 25, after spray-painting the words “he’s gone” on a wall — referring to the recently-deceased Fidel Castro — and celebrating in the streets of Havana. He had invited others to join him in a Facebook Live video. He is being charged with “defiling public property,” police have told his mother.
Machado told the Miami-based Martí Noticias that she has been able to see her son twice. During her first visit, she saw that he had been visibly beaten by the guards in jail. He told her that he had been beaten so severely that it triggered an asthma attack. When he demanded medical attention for his asthma, they beat him harder.
On her second visit, Maldonado told his mother that he is refusing to eat prison food because he suspects police are slipping drugs into his food. Maldonado has been loudly shouting, “down with Fidel” and “down with Raúl” from his prison cell, Machado told Martí, and the drugs are meant to subdue him out of galvanizing his fellow prisoners.
“He says he will not eat anything the police give him because in Guanabacoa police station 14, they put sleeping drugs in his food so that he would stop screaming ‘down with Fidel’ and ‘down with Raúl,'” Machado told the outlet.
Maldonado had previously spent time in prison for attempting to place an art installation featuring pigs labeled “Fidel” and “Raúl” — a nod to the novel Animal Farm — in a public square in Havana. He later recreated the art piece in Miami and was scheduled to return to Miami for Art Basel before his arrest.
While the most high-profile case of an arrest in the aftermath of Fidel Castro’s death announcement, Maldonado’s is certainly not the only one.
Eduardo Cardet Concepción, national coordinator for the dissident Christian Liberation Movement, remains imprisoned in Holguín, facing charges of “disrespect, public spectacle, [and] resistance to authority” after publicly denouncing the “police and military presence… imposing mourning” on the Cuban people following Castro’s death. He also protested, the Spanish newspaper Diario de Cuba reports, that Cubans were being forced to sign the condolence book the government has created for Cubans to express their opinions on Castro, as well as sign a pledge to “socialist society” in the wake of Castro’s death.
Cardet has also reportedly suffered multiple beatings following his arrest.
Rosa María Payá — a Cuban dissident activist and the daughter of Oswaldo Payá, who founded the Christian Liberation Movement — has announced that she will travel to the United Nations to denounce the Cuban government’s abuse of Cardet and Maldonado to the Human Rights Commission.
14 y Medio, an independent journalism project in Cuba, has documented some other similar incidents: journalist Francisco Blanco was beaten and arrested; another journalist, Sol García Basulto, has been under house arrest for days with no charges; and Ladies in White member Laritza Diversent has been missing for two weeks.
“The repression will continue, it will worsen, it will get more raw, because Fidel was Raúl Castro’s crutch,” Berta Soler, the head of the Ladies in White group, told reporters last week.
Without Fidel’s presence to intimidate dissidents, Soler argued, Raúl would resort to violence to crush any hope of ending the communist dynasty following his death. Soler has chosen to suspend the group’s weekly silent protests to protect the members of the group from outsized physical harm at the hands of police.