Ladies in White

“I come from the street, but I did not want to stay there,” says ‘El
Sexto’ / 14ymedio, Mario Penton

Danilo Maldonado (El Sexto) after his release from prison. (14ymedio)
14ymedio, Mario Penton, Miami, 3 February 2017 — The uniform haircut
imposed upon entering the Combinado del Este prison contrasts with the
stains of fresh paint on the shoes of the super tall man, who stands
nearly 6’5?. Danilo Maldonado Machado, known as ‘El Sexto’ (The Sixth),
a graffiti artist and human rights activist in Cuba, embodies the
antithesis of the New Man forged by the Revolution.

After being imprisoned for 55 days for painting graffiti on a wall of
the Habana Libre hotel, Maldonado was released on 21 January. He is
currently visiting Miami to promote his art and to thank the Cuban
community there for their support.

His life has not been easy. He was born in 1983 and grew up in the years
of the Special Period when the Soviet subsidies ended and the island was
plunged into misery. Originally from Camaguey, he had to share a roof in
Havana with another family and take on the weight of a home without a
father.

His art is street art. He never went to an academy. As a child he tried
but was rejected for being “very small”

“In those years I was selling milk caramels in the neighborhood to help
my mother get by,” he recalls.

“Sometimes we did not even have fifty cents to buy milk. The rebellion
against poverty and oppression began at that time.”

His art is street art. He never went to an academy. As a child he tried
but was rejected for being “very small.” Leonel, a teacher in the House
of Culture in his neighborhood, took him under his wing and showed him
the first strokes.

“From there I wanted to get out what I had inside, but I did not know
how,” he says.

The first time that Maldonado went to prison was due to a robbery at a
warehouse on a Cuban Army tank base. At that time he was serving his
compulsory military service. He was sentenced to six years in
prison. The prison experience changed him “forever.”

“Prison is a place where you find many types of people, with different
cultures and points of view. Learning to live among them, to live
together, is one of the great lessons that experience left me with,” he
says.

His artistic name, El Sexto (The Sixth) occurred to him in the midst of
the Cuban government’s campaign to bring back “The Cuban Five” – spies
imprisoned in the U.S.

In prison he also learned that respect is not gained through violence
but “with principles and with acting in the right way of.”

Maldonado does not hide that he had a troubled past.

“I have been involved in many things in my life that have made me what I
am. I do not come from a monastery. I come from the street but that is
not where I wanted to stay,” he answers when asked about the campaign
against him pushed by bloggers working for the Cuban government who
accuse him of being addicted to drugs.

“People change, they have the right to do it. I do not like even the
smell of drinking,” adds the artist.

His artistic name, El Sexto (the Sixth), came in the midst of the
campaign by the Cuban government to bring back the five Wasp Network
spies imprisoned in the United States, who were known in Cuba as “The
Five Heroes.”

He called himself “The Sixth Hero,” who represented the voice of the
Cuban people, “the hostage” of the dictatorship, according to Maldonado.

Maldonado has been arrested three times for political reasons

“They (the Government) put them on television, like they are part of
your family. I want people to know the message of freedom and to open
their eyes. So I understood I had to come to them with a message that
was sarcastic and that everyone could understand,” he says.

“You cross out my things, I cross out yours,” he wrote, about the stupid
black spots that officialdom uses to try to hide graffit in the capital.
In addition, he distributed leaflets with subservise phrases and invited
the whole world to be free and happy.

“I am doing my work: being free. I would like others to see that it is
possible to be free and to break with the government,” he says when
asked about his role in Cuban culture.

Maldonado has been arrested three times for political reasons. In 2014
he attempted to stage a street performance titled Animal Farm. He
proposed to release two pigs in Havana’s Central Park. On the backs of
piglets, which were painted green, the names of the Cuban rulers were
also painted: Fidel on one piglet and Raúl on the other.

The idea was that whoever captured the piglets could keep them as a
prize. It was easy to imagine what the winners would do with them. The
daring act, which never came to fruition, cost him ten months’
imprisonment in the Valle Grande prison.

El Sexto has been imprisoned for joining the Ladies in White in their
Sunday protest marches to demand the release of political prisoners

The conditions in the Cuban prisons, the dirt, the bad food and the
degrading treatment to the inmates were documented by him in a diary. In
addition, the artist was able to take photographs that he clandestinely
sneaked out of Valle Grande to support his complaints.

Art and his activism go hand in hand. Sometimes both activities are
scandalous.

“There are people who accuse me of calling the flag a ‘rag’ or reproach
me for a work of art made with the bust of José Martí. For me what is
truly sacred is human life, above any other symbol created by society. I
believe in life and in respect for it,” says Maldonado.

El Sexto has been imprisoned for joining the Ladies in White in their
Sunday protest marches to demand the release of political prisoners, and
has been part of the ‘We All March’ campaign.

Laura Pollán, the deceased leader of the Ladies in White and Oswaldo
Payá, the deceased leader of the Christian Liberation Movement,
are tattooed on his skin, along with a petition for the release of
Leopoldo López, a Venezuelan politician currently a political prisoner
in that country.

In 2015, Danilo Maldonado received the Vaclav Havel Prize, for “creative
dissent, the display of courage and creativity to challenge injustice
and live in truth”

“I am worried about the situation of political prisoners in Cuba,
Eduardo Cardet and many others,” he says. He is also trying to sensitize
the international community to the drama of thousands of Cubans who were
stranded in Latin America following Barack Obama’s repeal of the wet
foot/dry foot policy, shortly before he left office.

“These are our brothers, we should unite to help them. As long as we
Cubans do not join together, we will not change the situation of our
country,” he laments.

In 2015, Danilo Maldonado received the Vaclav Havel Prize, awarded to
people “who participate in creative dissent, display courage and
creativity to challenge injustice and live in truth.”

Currently, El Sexto is preparing an art exhibition in the United
States. He also plans to travel to Geneva to talk about human rights in
Cuba and plans to attend the Oslo Freedom Forum.

_______________________________

This article is part of an agreement between 14ymedio and the Nuevo Herald.

Source: “I come from the street, but I did not want to stay there,” says
‘El Sexto’ / 14ymedio, Mario Penton – Translating Cuba –
translatingcuba.com/i-come-from-the-street-but-i-did-not-want-to-stay-there-says-el-sexto-14ymedio-mario-penton/

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