Cuban artist Danilo Maldonado, known by his stage name “El Sexto,” tells journalists he has no intention of censoring his art after being freed from a ten-month stint in prison after being caught painting the names “Fidel” and “Raúl” on two pigs.
“I am not afraid of going to jail again,” Maldonado told Argentine outlet Infobae from his home in Havana. “This government has proven that it does whatever it wants and will continue to perpetrate any type of atrocity, and I will keep doing my work as I have been until now.”
Maldonado was arrested in December after bring two pigs into a cab that had had the names of the former and current dictators of the island spray-painted on, along with green paint made to resemble the guerrilla uniforms the Castro brothers made famous. He was on his way to Havana’s Central Park, where he intended to set the pigs free among people in the park as an art project. He was never charged with a crime and never tried, though it is believed that he was arrested under Cuban laws stating that it is illegal to insult or criticize the nation’s leaders and the Communist Party. For his longtime anti-communist activism, Maldonado received the Vaclav Havel International Prize for Creative Dissent in April.
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Maldonado told Infobae that the prison he was kept in was “a common prison full of common prisoners,” and that most of the abuse he endured was “psychological,” not physical. “They did not let my relatives see me during visiting hours,” he explained, and described himself as feeling “a little weird” and being “a little thinner” after enduring a hunger strike in September, “but more or less well.” During his hunger strike, reports from those who managed to visit him indicated that he had reached a state of poor health that placed him “near death.”
He notes that he was not told he was being released until it was time to sign the proper documentation to leave. “They told me ‘your release is immediate’ and they warned me ‘please, don’t make the same mistake, you’re being used as a puppet,’ and to not commit acts of immaturity, and all those crazy things,” he told the Miami Herald, “I didn’t respond at all.” He assured the newspaper that he would not “slack off” on his civil disobedience now that he has been freed. He is planning to apply for a visa to the United States and visit the Cuban exile community in Miami “to be close to people who think like I do, people in exile, who had to leave,” though there is no guarantee he will receive such permissions.
Maldonado has also thanked groups like Amnesty International for their activism during his hunger strike. Amnesty urged activists to start a letter-writing campaign both to the Cuban government and international media, calling him the only known prisoner of conscience in Cuba. While a prisoner of conscience, Maldonado was estimated to be one of at least 60 people currently serving time in prison in the communist country for having expressed a political belief offensive to the Castro dictatorship.
In a statement, the Americas Director of Amnesty International, Erika Guevara-Rosas, warned activists that Maldonado’s release was not a sign that the Cuban government had finally opened up. “Danilo’s release is great news but he should have never been jailed in the first place. Peacefully expressing an opinion is not a crime,” she said. Amnesty is urging reforms in Cuba, particularly in light of concessions the Obama administration began making to the Castro regime in December, when Maldonado was arrested.
Instead of opening up, reports indicate that Cuba has expanded its crackdowns on political dissidents. Between December 2014 and April 2015, political arrests increased by 70 percent, according to one report. The number of arrests also skyrocked in the time preceding and during Pope Francis’s visit to Cuba, including the arrest of a man caught on video in front of Pope Francis, for having shouted “freedom” after receiving a blessing. Pope Francis denied “knowing anything” about political arrests in Cuba.