Cuba frees artist ‘El Sexto’

Cuban artist Danilo Maldonado, better known as “El Sexto” (The Sixth) was released from Cuba’s Valle Grande prison Tuesday morning after being incarcerated without trial for 10 months.

“They arrived at 10 a.m. and took me out of my cell, they took me to gather my belongings and handcuffed me. All of this took about 15 minutes,” Maldonado said in a telephone interview from his home with el Nuevo Herald.

“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. I didn’t respond at all,” said the graffiti artist, who assured that despite his thin frame, he is in good health.

Maldonado said he had resumed a “sit in” and hunger strike on Saturday, when he realized Cuban authorities had not released him from jail on Friday as they had promised.

When it was known Maldonado was still incarcerated, Amnesty International — an organization that declared the young artist as a “prisoner of conscience” — published a harsh editorial in which it criticized the Cuban government for “miserably failing” their promise.

In one of the most notorious artistic censorship cases to take place during the last few years in Cuba, the graffiti artist was jailed for attempting a performance with two pigs he named “Fidel” and “Raul.” He was accused of disorderly conduct but a trial was never held.

While Maldonado was in jail, an international campaign clamoring for his liberation started growing strong. While in jail, Maldonado said he experienced the same conditions and scarcities as all prisoners.

“I was in a double-walled cell for 22 days. The key for the lock was held by the official on guard, so if you faint, the guard of the cell has to go and look for the key,” he said in reference to his first hunger strike. “The conditions are extreme in order to break you.”

The graffiti artist thanked the media, which covered his case as well as the activists, opposition leaders and international organizations who fought for his release. “Without a doubt, I would still be in jail [without their help] so I thank every person who did something to achieve my liberation,” he said.

Maldonado promised to continue his work and confessed that while he’s planning to take a break to spend time with his daughter, it doesn’t “mean that I will slack off.”

Maldonado thinks his case will help “stretch the line of prohibition” in regards to artistic liberty and freedom of expression in Cuba. “This time I thought about the thing with the pigs, next time who knows what I’ll think of doing.”

And without losing his sense of humor, he pinpointed Cuban authorities for not returning the two pigs involved in the controversial performance, noting in passing the pigs were female.

Follow Nora Gamez Torres on Twitter: @ngameztorres