Cuban dissident artist Danilo Maldonado, better known as “El Sexto,” was scheduled to take part in Art Basel Miami this week.
Instead, he was detained by Cuban authorities on Saturday after posting a video on Facebook mocking Fidel Castro’s death.
In the video, shot with a cell phone selfie-style, Maldonado refers to Castro as a yegua (mare) and calls on the public to celebrate the former leader’s death.
“Here we are, three hours after the death of the mare,” Maldonado says in the seven-minute video. “...We need people to come out to the streets...and ask for liberty...”
Speaking Spanish, he goes on to criticize those feigning sadness over Castro’s death and ends the broadcast by spraying “El Sexto” onto a wall at the Hotel Habana Libre where Castro took up temporary residence following his triumphant march into Havana in 1959.
...We need people to come out to the streets...and ask for liberty...
Danilo “El Sexto” Maldonado
Relatives said Maldonado is being held without charges at a police station in Guanabacoa, a municipality on the outskirts of Havana.
On Monday, Maldonado was supposed to attend the premiere of an HBO documentary “Patria O Muerte: Cuba, Fatherland or Death” by director Olatz López Garmendia and produced by Oscar-nominated Julian Schnabel.
But he was not permitted to leave Cuba, even though he has a U.S. work visa valid for five years, relatives said.
“The Cuban authorities have a history of detaining El Sexto ahead of many planned performances, but Castro’s death appears to be the impetus for this particularly aggressive assault,” said a statement by Pollock Fine Art and Julian Schnabel of HBO’s “Patria o Muerte” film, which features the Cuban artist and human rights activist.
Maldonado, 32, received international attention after he attempted to carry out a performance art event in 2014 featuring two pigs painted in green with the names “Fidel” and “Raúl” — a reference to the Castro brothers.
He was detained on Saturday morning, hours after Raúl Castro announced his brother’s death on Cuban TV.
Maldonado’s relatives characterized his detention as an “abduction” by State Security.
“Danilo called me around 11:00 a.m. saying that there were people from the State Security who opened the door of his apartment and were trying to kidnap him,” said his girlfriend, Alexandra Martinez, 24, of Miami. “Since then, no one has been able to see him, nor do we know why he is detained or what the charges are. That's kidnapping.
“Every time something important happens, they [State Security] want to silence the voice of those who do not agree with the regime, with the repression of that government,” Martinez said. “They are trying to silence him during these nine days of mourning.”
Every time something important happens, they [State Security] want to silence the voice of those who do not agree with the regime...
Alexandra Martinez, Maldonado’s girlfriend
Residents who witnessed the arrest said that four uniformed officers and five other in civilian clothes “took the key from the owner of the apartment [Maldonado] rents in Havana, entered and dragged him to the patrol car. They put him with his head against the floor so he could not lift his head,” according to Maria Victoria Machado, Maldonado's mother.
“He kept shouting ‘Abajo Fidel, abajo Raul!’ while they were taking him,” Machado said.
Maldonado was first transferred to a local police station in the La Lisa neighborhood, where his mother and sister tried to see him, but the authorities didn’t allow them. He was then transferred to Villa Marista, a prison in Havana where Cuban dissidents are interrogated by State Security.
On Sunday morning, Machado received a call from a young man who had been detained with Maldonado at a police station in Guanabacoa.
“That’s how I found out he was in Guanabacoa,” Machado said.
That afternoon, Machado went to the police station and was able to confirm that her son was being held there. She brought him a bar of soap, a toothbrush, toothpaste and his asthma spray medication, “because it's cold there and he's asthmatic,” Machado said. A guard took the supplies and said they were going to give them to him.
After hearing the news of Fidel Castro's death on Friday night, Maldonado went around the city and drew several graffiti, including the one at the iconic Hotel Habana Libre. A few hours later he was in jail.
Cuban activist Rosa María Payá, leader of the Cuba Decide campaign, said that Maldonado's family and friends don’t know anything about his current condition.
“His mother went to see him and they did not let her. They have not even said why they have him detained. We know that when he was arrested the situation became tense, he began to scream and they took his phone away. That was the last time they heard from him,” Payá said.
Danilo Maldonado “El Sexto” is the recepient of the Václav Havel International Award for Creative Dissent awarded by the Human Rights Foundation.
El Sexto’s work will continue to be shown in his absence at the Gallery Agerled in Miami, event organizers said.
Abel Fernández is on Twitter @abelfglez