Open Letter to Pope Francis for the Release of “El Sexto”
On September 19, Pope Francis will land in Havana, beginning his visit the United States and Cuba. In preparation for his visit, Cuban authorities have released 3,522 prisoners in a “humane and sovereign act.” These prisoners did not include the graffiti artist El Sexto, who has been held without trial since December 26, 2014. Cuban police have also detained more than 50 activists who participated in a march calling on the authorities to release those political prisoners. This is not unprecedented: Cuban authorities arrested human rights activists in Cuba prior to Pope Benedict’s visit in 2012.
Along with other activists, Sampsonia Way contributor Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo signed an open letter to Pope Francis calling for El Sexto’s release. This letter is republished below. You can add your name to the petition to free El Sexto here.
Freedom for Danilo
Open Letter to the Pope
Havana, September 8, 2015
Your Holiness, Pope Francis:
In advance of your visit to our island, a group of Cuban citizens wish to call your attention to a case that needs an immediate solution. This is the politically motivated imprisonment of Danilo Maldonado Machado, a young artist who decided to express his dissatisfaction with the government through graffiti (urban or street art) and handing out flyers.
Also know as “El Sexto” (The Sixth) – an antithesis of “The Five”: a superhero invented for his creative work in the public space – Danilo has lived under constant police surveillance and harassment since he began the exercise of his art: he has been arbitrarily arrested countless times, they have arbitrarily searched his home, and confiscated his paint cans.
For more than eight months he has been held in custody without a trial or formal charges. On December 25, 2014 he prepared a Christmas performance. It consisted of releasing, in Central Park in Havana, two piglets greased with the names “Fidel” and “Raul painted on their backs. An action based on a Cuban peasant tradition. He named it, “Rebellion on the Farm” [The title used in Spanish for the novel “Animal Farm”].
Agents intercepted him on the way and since then, like someone who tried very hard before the tribunal to pronounce the precise letters that evoke “The Unnamable” with profane intentions, and he remains in a maximum security prison on the outskirts of Havana.
Danilo has been declared a prisoner of conscience. Confined to Valle Grande Prison for Contempt, an offense described in Article 144.2 of the Cuban Penal Code which provides for a sentence of one to three years for anyone “who threatens, slanders, defames, insults or in any way offends or affronts, orally or in writing, the dignity or decorum … the President of the State Council, the President of the National Assembly of People’s Power, members of the State Council or the Council of Ministers or the Deputies to the National Assembly People Power.”
Converting his action into a crime penalized with disproportionate penalties, only demonstrates that in Cuba the law criminalizes and discriminates against those who think differently: our Constitution denies all freedoms that are “contrary to the principles of the Revolution.”
We do not trust the judicial system where the State plays all the roles: prosecutor, defense attorney and judge at the same time. At this time his record is lost and the defense can do nothing until formally until it appears.
The prosecution has rejected three times a request for a change of pre-trial conditions for Danilo so that he can await his trial in freedom; according to the argument of the defense: the crime or “crazy idea… was not carried out.” The prosecutor’s response states that Danilo is a citizen with “the worst social conduct” and “is not socially useful.”
As friends with ideas that diverge from the official discourse, we have been prohibited from visiting him in prison. In solidarity, we have publicized the case in concerts under [police] surveillance, expositions of Danilo’s drawings made during his long confinement, in collections of signatures, and campaigns on social networks. We have marched together with the Ladies in White, demanding an Amnesty Law for political prisoners, while the State insists on denying that they exist, and at the same time every Sunday they deploy excessive violence in unjustified police operations against these women, who walk in peace and who are as well known as the Mothers of the Plaza de Mayo.
We come to you with the hope that you can intercede to repair the injustice against this young artist who has only committed the crime of daring to be free.
The right to freedom of expression and artistic creation deserves respect and value because Cuba presents itself to the world as a country that loves Education and Culture. Our government should protect the interests of critical artists – because one is an artist by nature – not persecute them. Our artists need to be considered and respected as key actors of social change, not condemned to prison or censorship.
As Danilo’s friends we demand his unconditional release and that our most essential freedoms be respected. We call for a genuine and transparent tolerance: the end of systematic and unjustified violence against the Ladies in White and every Cuban citizen who wishes to demonstrate in peace using the public space.
Know that many of us will be incarcerated for the sole reason of your visit to Cuba and our telephone services will be illegally cut off to prevent our attending the Mass at Civic Plaza, as happened during the visit of His Holiness Benedict XVI, when the authorities deployed a massive police operation throughout the country, limiting the freedom of movement of peaceful citizens, and suspending without notice and against every law governing telecommunications services. “Vow of Silence” is what the government called that unprecedented operation, which we remember as the “Holy Blackout.”
We bid you welcome to our island, inhabited for the most part by the humble. Our intention is to wish you a pilgrimage of peace. We also desire with all our hearts that your visit will be gratifying and fruitful for everyone involved, including us, all Cubans, and will bring that peace that we so urgently need along with a genuine hope of rapid prosperity and national healing.
Gorki Águila, músico (La Habana)
Lia Villares, artista (La Habana)
Claudio Fuentes, fotógrafo y editor (La Habana)
Berta Soler, Dama de Blanco (La Habana)
Tania Bruguera, artivista (New York)
Ángel Santiesteban, escritor (La Habana)
Luis Trápaga, pintor (La Habana)
Ciro Javier Díaz Penedo, músico y matemático (São Paulo)
Laritza Diversent, abogada independiente (La Habana)
Ailer González, artista (La Habana)
Lizabel Monica, escritora y artista multidisciplinaria (Princeton, New Jersey)
Camilo E. Olivera, periodista independiente (La Habana)
Yania Suárez, escritora (La Habana)
Boris González Arenas, cineasta (La Habana)
Ernesto Pérez Chang, escritor (La Habana)
Rosa María Payá (Miami)
Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, escritor y fotógrafo (Reykjavíj, Islandia)
Regina Coyula, editora (La Habana)
Elena Victoria Molina, cineasta (Barcelona)
Aylin Sardiña Fernández, estilista (Gunzburg, Alemania)
Eliécer Ávila Cicilia, ingeniero informático (La Habana)
Iván Hernández Carrillo, sindicalista independiente (Matanzas)
Haisa Alicia Rosabal, editora (Villa Clara)
Sayli Navarro, Dama de Blanco (Matanzas)
Sonia Álvarez Campello, Dama de Blanco (Matanzas)
Yoaxis Marcheco, máster en Teología (Villa Clara)
Mario Félix Lleonart, pastor bautista (Villa Clara)
Maria Victoria Machado, madre de Danilo (La Habana)
Maria Caridad González, abuela de Danilo (La Habana)
Francisco Javier Machado, abuelo de Danilo (La Habana)
Jorge Maldonado Cruz, padre de Danilo (La Habana)
Indira Maldonado Machado, hermana de Danilo (La Habana)
José Darien Espinosa, hermano de Danilo (La Habana)
Frank Correa Lopey, artesano (La Habana)
Aurelio Cobarrubia Rivera, artesano (La Habana)
Erik Jennische, Civil Rights Defenders (Estocolmo)
Oscar Antonio Casanella Saint-Blancard, bioquímico (La Habana)
Dagne Ramírez, diseñadora (New York)
Suyai Otaño, artista (Argentina)
Armando Valdés Zamora, escritor y profesor universitario (París)
Joel Echevarria Rabago, ciudadano de amor (Hialeah)
Azucena Plasencia, periodista (La Habana)
Mariana Hernández, Cuban Soul Foundation (Florida)
Pedro Luis Vidal, Cuban Soul Foundation (Miami)
Karinna Álvarez, Cuban Soul Foundation (Miami)
Sisi Portuondo, Cuban Soul Foundation (Miami);
Yoani Sánchez, 14ymedio (La Habana)
The English translation of this open letter was originally published on translatingcuba.com on September 14, 2015.