As Miami Cubans celebrated Fidel Castro’s death on Calle Ocho in the wee hours of Saturday morning, Cubans on the island remained in a vortex of silence. Danilo Maldonado Machado, known as “El Sexto,” reported live from la Habana Libre Hotel in el Vedado Saturday at 5 a.m. The streets were empty, and only Maldonado’s defiant “Abajo Fidel, abajo Raúl” could be heard. Hours later, the well-known graffiti artist who recently opened a studio space in Little Havana’s Futurama, was taken from his apartment in Arroyo Arenas.
At 11:15 a.m., Maldonado heard someone at his door. Outside, state security forces made their way onto the property, took the key from the landlord, and forcefully dragged Maldonado from his home.
“La seguridad del estado is outside my door; they are going to arrest me,” Maldonado told New Times over the phone as state security made its way into his apartment.
According to Maldonado’s mother, Maria Victoria Machado Gonzalez, he was beaten and dragged across the floor as he was brought to a police unit in San Agustin on 51st Avenue and 240th Street. But there have been no official charges released, and there is no record of Maldonado’s detention.
His mother, along with his sister Indira Maldonado Machado, waited desperately across the street for any word from Maldonado, his mother says. In the late afternoon, his sister approached the edge of the property and shouted her older brother’s name. In an instant, Maldonado responded.
“Estoy aquí, estoy aquí.”
Indira was quickly removed from the property by police officials. But soon after, at 7:30 p.m., a plainclothes officer informed the activist’s mother that Maldonado had been moved to Villa Marista, a state security prison notorious for housing political prisoners. Later, she was informed, El Sexto was moved again, to the police station at Guanabacoa.
“I waited outside the police unit all day, and still nobody has told me why my son was abducted,” his mother says.
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Maldonado’s abduction came hours after the official news that Cuban dictator Fidel Castro died at the age of 90. Other known activists such as the Ladies in White have stated they will not be out on the street for their weekly human rights protest on Sunday mornings. Civic activists with the group Hugo Damian Prieto Blanco and Jose Diaz Silva have also been taken into custody. Their locations are not known.
El Sexto received the Human Rights Foundation’s Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent in May 2015, after he spent ten months in Cuba’s Valle Grande Prison after a photo he posted of two live pigs with “Fidel” and “Raúl” written on them. He did two hunger strikes and gained the attention of international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, which named him a prisoner of conscience. Maldonado was also detained briefly this past March during President Barack Obama’s visit to Cuba.
Most recently, Maldonado opened a studio space in Little Havana’s Futurama and was preparing for a special performance piece at Steadfast Magazine’s Art Basel show, “La Libertad Artistica,” December 3. For the past week, Maldonado had been attempting to travel back to Miami, to no avail. Police officials had “marked” him at the airport, and he was not able to leave despite an official notice from the police unit that he was cleared to travel.
“El Sexto has become a prominent target of the Cuban regime because his graffiti art is one of the elite’s most feared methods of protest as it exposes their true nature. El Sexto’s art unmasks the tyranny in ways white papers and press accounts cannot. Now that Castro will receive a pompous farewell, the regime will take measures to silence all voices for democracy and to drown out calls for reform,” Thor Halvorssen, president of Human Rights Foundation, said in a statement released by the organization.