Cuba’s much ado about two little pigs

Regime has reneged on releasing jailed artist El Sexto many times.
Regime has reneged on releasing jailed artist El Sexto many times. el Nuevo Herald

Cuba’s questionable human-rights record is on display again over a relatively insignificant act of civil disobedience. But how authorities have handled it, up to now, says volumes.

The brouhaha is over Cuban graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, known as El Sexto, or the Sixth One. Mr. Maldonado has been in jail since Dec. 25, 2014.

His crime: Attempting to put on a performance-art play that included two pigs named Raúl and Fidel. The pigs were appearing in a performance of Revolt in the Farm, an obvious takeoff on George Orwell’s classic Animal Farm.

In Cuba — before and after its renewed political relations with the United States — such irreverence in the guise of contempt for political leaders and the regime has been punishable by law. Clearly, the revolution has little tolerance and no sense of humor about these things.

El Sexto staged a hunger strike for 24 days when authorities announced recently that the artist would be released last Thursday.

That day, according to el Nuevo Herald reporters, the graffiti artist’s relatives gathered outside the Valle Grande prison waiting for him to walk free.

It never happened.

According to Cuban blogger and activist Lia Villares, prison authorities told relatives they had no instructions to release El Sexto.

Then the artist’s mother was notified by State Security that, yes, he had served the time required and would be released before Oct. 21.

Was this all some cruel joke? As this is written, the family sits and waits, as does El Sexto.

In the past eight months, Cuban authorities announced several times they would release the graffiti artist, then reneged. Disappointing? Yes. A total surprise from this mercurial and heartless regime? No.

In any free society, the joke El Sexto concocted would have been regarded as biting, but harmless political humor, not an assault on the state requiring imprisonment.

In the United States, people are not thrown in prison for drawing a Hitler mustache on a poster of former President George W. Bush or for waving banners critical of the commander in chief as President Obama’s motorcade whizzes by. Oh wait, we live in a democracy. It’s different in Cuba, not matter what tourists visiting the island are told.

The punishment imposed on El Sexto, an insignificant, young, rebellious graffiti artist, is excessive. And the uncertainty over his release has been painful for both the artist and his family. Supporters have ramped up a social-media campaign: #FreeElSexto.

Now, months after the United States and Cuba renewed relations, the constant mantra is that democratic influences will bring about change inside Cuba.

However, it’s still hard to believe a tiger like the Cuban government will change its stripes. It’s a lesson it reinforces by taking action against people like El Sexto.

And it is yet one more of too many post-normalization examples that confirms the regime is long way off from having the United States grant its fondest wish: ending the embargo against it.