Cuba has released Danilo Maldonado Machado, an artist also known as “El Sexto,” after nearly two months in prison for having celebrated the death of Fidel Castro in public.
While the Cuban government alleged that his arrest was related to spray-painting the words “se fue” (“he’s gone”) onto a wall in Havana, Maldonado was never charged with a crime or allowed to stand trial. He spent 57 days behind bars for the graffiti and a Facebook Live video in which he asked passersby if they were happy that Castro was dead. The video was filmed the night dictator Raúl Castro announced his older brother’s death.
Marti Noticias, which reported Maldonado’s release, notes that the legal punishment for “vandalism” of the type he committed is a 27 Cuban peso fine.
“This time the repression was more crude,” Maldonado told the outlet Cubanet, as quoted in Martí. “All the time they were beating me, humiliating me. They were constantly provoking me to make me react, trying to make me lose control.”
During the first few days of his arrest in late November, Maldonado was reportedly stripped naked and beaten until police induced an asthma attack and then refused him an inhaler. Maldonado told his mother Victoria that he suspected that guards were sneaking tranquilizers into his food in order to prevent him from shouting, “down with Fidel” and “down with Raúl,” from his prison cell where other inmates could hear him. Maldonado refused to eat initially.
In prison, Maldonado wrote letters urging the Cuban people to revolt against communism, smuggled out by his mother and published on Facebook by his fiancée, Cuban-American journalist Alexandra Martínez. “The Cuban people march by force under the sun and shout slogans like ‘I am Fidel,’ but many are silent because the Cuban people fear, and with fear one cannot be free,” he wrote. “We must learn to demystify a murderer, because if not, that day [that Castro dies], nothing will happen.”
The artist also drew sketches later published on Facebook and media like the Spain-based Diario de Cuba.
The Cuban police state ultimately placed Maldonado in a maximum security prison without charging him with a crime. “They put me in with murderers,” Maldonado told Cubanet. He noted, however, that when interrogated, officials claimed he had “an enormous rap sheet, like trying to prove that I have a long history of counterrevolutionary behavior.” “They told me they were going to try me on television,” he recalled, “and I said, damn, they’re going to do to me what they did to Ochoa.” Arnaldo Ochoa was a Cuban general who was sentenced to death in a televised trial in 1989.
They also arrested American human rights attorney Kimberly Motley, who traveled to Cuba to investigate his case. She was released on the condition that she would leave the island.
Maldonado told Cubanet that he was planning to “go to Miami as soon as possible” over the weekend. Upon attempting to board a plane on Sunday, Cuban police prevented him from leaving the island, citing charges levied against him by his ex-wife. Maldonado and his mother both told international media that they had not heard of these “charges” before, including while he was imprisoned, and that police did not specify what they were.
Maldonado previously spent ten months in prison without charges in 2015 for having spray-painted the names “Fidel” and “Raúl” on two pigs, in an homage to George Orwell’s Animal Farm.