Cuban artist 'El Sexto' goes on hunger strike

Jailed artist to miss 'La Libertad Artistica' performance at Art Concept Miami

By Liane Morejon - Reporter , Andrea Torres - Digital Reporter/Producer

MIAMI - Danilo Maldonado Machado is a brazen graffiti writer. He once used a spray can to label two pigs as the Castro brothers. The art installation got him arrested in 2014. Two years later, his family said he is back in a Cuban prison on a hunger strike. 

After time at Miami-Dade College in a Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba program, the 33-year-old vandal grew up into an outspoken artist and a thorn in the side of state security forces trained to suppress dissent.

Machado has a studio in Miami's Little Havana and the Danish Gallery Argerled was expecting him to present "La Libertad Artistica," a performance piece, at the Art Concept Miami Fair, a satellite event during Art Basel Miami Beach.

After Cuban President Raul Castro announced Fidel Castro was dead, Maldonado -- better known as "El Sexto" -- rushed to express himself. He spray painted a wall with the words, "He is gone." And he recorded a video. 

"Down with Fidel, down with Raul," he also shouted. 

It was a risk. A few days before Fidel Castro died, Maldonado wrote on Twitter, Cuban officials "just went to my mom's house, while I wasn't there, they didn't leave an official citation and threatened  to move and seize me. I don't know why."

He later posted a citation for an interview Nov. 22. Four days later, they returned and arrested him. If anyone can handle getting arrested in Cuba, it is him, his fiancé, Alexandra Martinez, who lives in Miami, said. But she said she wants him freed before "the situation escalates."

"His whole work has been about trying to wake up the Cuban people,"  Martinez said. 

Martinez, a Miami-based journalist who writes for the Miami New Times, walked around during a rally in Miami's Little Havana to talk about the arrest. Cuban-Americans were giving out #FreeElSexto stickers on Eighth Street. Over the years, the artist has developed a reputation as a dissident. 

After spending 10 months in Villa Grande prison without a trial or formal charges, he used his artwork to communicate with the outside world and was on a hunger strike. Amnesty International named him a prisoner of conscience.

In May of last year, he received the Human Rights Foundation's Vaclav Havel Prize for Creative Dissent. 

It's déjà vu. Cuban authorities are holding him again without formal charges.  After getting a key from the landlord, state security forces stormed into his home, Martinez said.  

"They opened the door, dragged him down the stairs, beat him and took him to a police station," Martinez said. "I am scared for his life and safety. The Cuban regime can do whatever they want."

Copyright 2016 by WPLG Local10.com - All rights reserved.