Solidarity with El Sexto: Cuba’s Dissidents Speak Out

by  translated by Adriana Gutierrez  /  September 21, 2015  / No comments

Artwork by El Sexto

Artwork by El Sexto. Used with the artist's permission.

Pope Francis is visiting Cuba from September 19 to the 21, where graffiti artist El Sexto has been held without trial for the last eight months. Cuban authorities released 3,522 prisoners from detention in a gesture of goodwill preceding Pope Francis’s arrival, but continues to hold El Sexto and the 8,898 others currently in custody for their expressions of dissent. Prior to the Pope’s visit, authorities arrested members of the dissident group The Ladies in White, who were protesting the continued detention of these political prisoners.

Prior to holding a “friendly and fraternal” conversation with Fidel Castro, Pope Francis conducted mass in Cuba’s Revolution Square, in which he called for the protection of the innocent but refrained from directly criticizing the government.

With help from columnist Orlando Luis Pardo Lazo, Sampsonia Way contacted dissidents living on the island, abroad, and in exile to voice their support for El Sexto. You can add your voice to theirs by signing a petition for his release.


“I want unconditional freedom for Danilo. The Cuban constitution respects artists and does not condemn them by criminalizing freedom of expression and artistic work. I do not want anyone else to be scared of expressing an idea that turns out to be ‘subversive’ in the eyes of an autocrat and an expired regime. I want us Cubans to start being as free as Danilo, whose spiritual strength surpasses every governing elite who cannot accept a mockery that is built upon the Terror of its people. This lack of acceptance displays the governing elite’s real insecurity and lack of popularity, sense of humour and lack of creativity. Let freedom of speech be protected and unpunished. Those who restrict it should be the ones punished.”

“Quiero la libertad incondicional para Danilo y que la constitución cubana respete a los artistas y no los condene criminalizando la libertad de expresión y creación artísticas. Quiero que nadie más diga con miedo alguna idea porque resulte “subversiva” a los ojos de un régimen autócrata y caduco. Quiero que los cubanos empecemos a ser tan libres como Danilo, cuya fuerza espiritual supera a toda la élite gobernante que no admite una burla porque se ha basado en el Terror de su pueblo, lo que demuestra su real inseguridad y falta de popularidad, de sentido del humor y nula creatividad. Que la libertad de opinión se proteja y no se castigue sino al que la restrinja.”

Lia Villares, Cuban blogger and fiction writer, contributor to Cuban Newrrative: An Anthology of Emerging Literature from Generation Zero, published by Sampsonia Way

“When I was a teenager, I thought that there was a door in every wall in the city. When I grew up, I understood that there was no city jail, because there were no doors without bars. Here, the walls only open sometimes. El Sexto worked that magic for us. In response, the government is working to raise more walls.”

“Cuando era adolescente pensaba que la ciudad tenía muchas puertas en cada muro. Cuando crecí, comprendí que no había ciudad sino cárcel, y que no había puertas sino rejas. Ahí están los muros, pero sólo se abren a veces. El Sexto ha obrado esa magia para nosotros. De ahí que el gobierno se empeñe en poner más muros en su haber.”

Lizabel Mónica, Cuban writer and performance artist, Ph.D. candidate at Princeton University, contributor to Cuban Newrrative: An Anthology of Emerging Literature from Generation Zero, published by Sampsonia Way (Princeton, NJ)

“El Sexto’s conviction that art is a sublime form of expression, reflecting the dreams and frustrations of an artist, always impressed me. Consistent with this [spirit] his drawings have always been calls for conscience and attention, challenges not only to authoritarian power but also to the conformist and apathetic minds who passively tolerate living without freedom. That is how I remember him: showing irreverence even in the way of seeing, of speaking, of walking. This attitude stood in contrast to the great gentleness with which he hugged a friend, and with that extravagant and loud laugh that revealed the spontaneity and transparency of an untameable soul. El Sexto is not in jail for a specific act. El Sexto is in jail because he represents the resistance that has been exerted by generations, for incarnating the untamed souls that were thought to be exterminated.”

“El sexto siempre me impresionó por su convicción de que el arte como forma sublime de expresión debía reflejar las convicciones, sueños y frustraciones del artista en su contexto. Siendo coherente con esto, sus dibujos siempre han sido gritos de conciencia, llamados de atención, retos no solo al poder autoritario sino a las mentes conformistas y apáticas que toleran inmóviles vivir sin libertad. Así lo recuerdo, irreverente hasta en la mirada, en la forma de decir, de caminar… Actitud que contrasta con la inmensa dulzura con que abrasa a un amigo, y con esa risa extravagante que retumba exponiendo la naturalidad y transparencia de un alma indomable. El sexto no está preso por hacer algo en específico. El sexto está preso porque es un símbolo de resistencia generacional, por encarnar en su conducta unos brios cimarrones que se creyeron exterminados….”

-Eliecer Avila, leader of SOMOS MÁS (Cuba)

“Why is the Cuban graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto, in a Cuban jail? One December day it occurred to him to paint two words mocking the obscene power that rules over Cuban lives. So it was decided that it was off to jail with him, just in case he should get more funny ideas – in Cuba there is no longer the need to bother with imaginary charges. That is why El Sexto will remain in a Cuban jail until further notice.”

“¿Por qué el grafitero cubano Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto, está en una cárcel cubana? Sucedió que un día de diciembre El Sexto tuvo la ocurrencia de pintar dos palabras con las que se reía del poder obsceno que manda sobre las vidas cubanas. Así se decidió que sería a la cárcel con él, no fuera a ser que al Sexto se le llegaran a ocurrir otras ideas graciosas (porque en Cuba no hay que tomarse ya la molestia de inventar cargos). Por eso, hasta nuevo aviso, El Sexto permanecerá en una cárcel cubana.”

-Diana Álvarez Amell, Cuban essayist, Professor at Seton Hall University (South Orange, NJ)

“El Sexto’s work is essential for freedom and democracy in Cuba.”

“La obra del Sexto es imprescindible para la libertad y la democracia en Cuba.”

“Danilo Maldonado Machado is a great and brave artist. He is unreasonably imprisoned. We support a campaign to liberate him from his supposed charges.”

-Mileydi Fougstedt, Director of Misceláneas de Cuba (Sweden)

“I have been following El Sexto’s work for several years and include a study of his use of tattoos and his street art in my upcoming book about performance art in Cuba. Performance artists in many parts of the world challenge public understanding of what art can and should be, and they test the limits of what is social and legally acceptable in public space. Making that kind of art often involves a degree of risk, but the price El Sexto is being asked to pay is too dear. The response of the Cuban government to his iconoclastic art is excessively punitive and unwarranted. No one should be held in legal limbo for nine months.”

-Coco Fusco, Cuban performance artist, researcher and professor (New York City, NY)

“Give the Pig what is the Pig’s, and give El Sexto his freedom. A fake gospel for Cuba: Naturally, calling a bloodthirsty and plundering tyrant a pig is disrespectful of the pig, with its natural intelligence and its delicious flesh. It means pretending that the little animal and the tyrannosaurus belong to the same category, as if they could be one and the same. No. The pig is cleaner, smarter, and more honorable. It uses the mud to protect its skin, as if a cure in a thermal bath. Its sense of smell guides it to the best truffles. It prefers to eat clean food, unless violently forced to do otherwise through starvation, when it has to gulp down anything. It feels death as it watches the sharp blade of a knife waving toward it. It can be brave and bold when cornered, cloaked in its freedom. Pigs are not afraid of fighting with dogs and dying. The pig can also be a friend to children and adults who would never sacrifice it, as it would be like sacrificing a fellow man.
El Sexto insults these attributes of the pigs when he compares a tyrant to them. But does he deserve the outrageous punishment the tyrant has imposed on him? Does he deserve to die while on a hunger strike, in jail, for having made a statement to the detriment of the pig? No animal would be so merciless. Pigs would feel guilt, despite the offense against them. We must understand that these poor little men, who have lived in a pen for such a long time, are afraid of a deadly knife edge that could end their lives. Give the Pig what is the Pig’s, and to El Sexto, the only piece of freedom that is possible during serfdom! Let’s demand that, for once, the tyrant acts as the Pig would act. Can we hope it will be this way?”

“‘Al Cerdo lo que es del Cerdo, y al Sexto, su libertad.’ Un evangelio espurio para Cuba. Naturalmente que otorgar categoría de cerdo a un tirano sanguinario y rapaz, es aborrecer del cerdo, de su inteligencia natural, de su carne exquisita. Es revolcar en un mismo albañal al animalito y al tiranosaurio como si pudieran ser uno y el mismo. No. El cerdo es más limpio, más inteligente, más íntegro. Se sirve del barro para protegerse la piel, como si se tratara de una cura en un baño termal. El sentido del olfato le lleva a las mejores trufas. Prefiere comer alimentos limpios, a menos que lo obliguen a golpes de hambre a tragar lo que sea. Presiente la muerte, cuando observa blandir en torno a él la hoja afilada de un cuchillo. Puede ser bravo y gallardo cuando se ve arrinconado en el monte, a cuya libertad se acogiera alguna vez. Ni perros azuzados por los perseguidores, ni la idea de morir en combate lo intimidan. El cerdo puede ser también el amigo del niño, y del adulto, que nunca lo sacrificará porque sería como asesinar a un semejante. El Sexto profana estos atributos del cerdo cuando identifica a los tiranos con los cerdos. ¿Merece por esta causa el castigo salvaje que le ha impuesto el tirano? ¿Morir, en una huelga de hambre, encarcelado, por haberse equivocado en perjuicio del cerdo? No creo que ningún animal se ensañaría de este modo en su persona. Los cerdos sentirán pena, a pesar de la ofensa a su persona. Hay que comprender a los pobrecitos hombres, especialmente cuando viven encerrados tanto tiempo en un corral, temiendo que en cualquier momento caiga sobre ellos el filo vandálico que puede segar sus vidas. ¡Demos al Cerdo, lo que es del Cerdo, y al Sexto, la breve parcela de libertad que es posible en cautiverio! Exijamos del tirano ponerse por una vez a la altura del cerdo. ¿Podemos esperar que así sea?

-Rolando D. H. Morelli, Ph.D, exiled Cuban writer and editor (Philadelphia, PA)

“Sexto is a brave advocate of freedom of expression in Cuba. Based on what he represents for Cubans and for freedom lovers, the right thing to do is to show him solidarity.“

“El Sexto es un valiente defensor de la libertad de expresión en Cuba. Lo decente es solidarizarse con él, por todo lo que representa para los cubanos y para los amantes de la libertad.”

-Carlos Alberto Montaner, Cuban novelist, historian, journalist, and professor (Miami, FL)

“El Sexto’s case has proven that self-expression in Cuba has been removed by a grave and degrading taboo: Fidel and Raul Castro. Freedom to Sexto.”

“El Sexto ha demostrado que la representación en Cuba está secuestrada por un último y bochornoso tabú: Fidel y Raúl Castro. Libertad para El Sexto.”

-Walfrido Dorto, Cuban essayist, professor at CUNY (New York, NY)

“Freedom for Danilo. Because a tyrant cannot tolerate free people, but the happy and prosperous population exists thanks to people [like El Sexto].”

“Libertad para Danilo. Porque el tirano no puede tolerar a las personas libres, pero los pueblos felices y prósperos, lo son gracias a ese tipo de personas.”

-Rosa María Payá, professor, columnist, and social activist (Havana, Cuba and Miami, FL)

“Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto, irrefutably proves the failure of the totalitarian system that has been imposed in Cuba since 1959. This does not mean that there were no examples of this failure before, but what is distinctive about Danilo is that he should have been the ‘Hombre Nuevo’ (the new man, a product created by socialism and maintained by a commitment to the revolution) and he was not. Danilo has demonstrated that he is not afraid of the system, something is unforgiveable to totalitarians. Do you remember Oswaldo Paya’s phrase: ‘… I do not hate you, but I am not afraid of you…?’”

“Danilo Maldonado, El Sexto, es una prueba irrefutable del fracaso del sistema totalitario impuesto en Cuba desde 1959. No es que antes no haya habido ejemplos de ese fracaso, pero lo emblematico de Danilo es que el debio de haber sido el ‘Hombre Nuevo’ y no lo fue. Danilo ha demostrado que no le teme al sistema, algo que los totalitarios no perdonan. Recuerdan la frase de Oswaldo Paya ‘… no te odio, pero no te temo…?’”

-Josefina Vento, coordinator of Cuba Decide and the Foundation for Latin American Democracy (Miami, FL)

“Soon, El Sexto, the graffiti artist Danilo Maldonado, will have unfairly spent nine months in Cuban jail. [El Sexto] is one of the most creative and original artists in Cuban civil society, and someone who the state of terror pervading in the Island’s cultural environment has not been able to bring down. And this/that is something that the castrista officialdom cannot tolerate: a Cuban artist standing against fear. That is why El Sexto is in prison: because through his art he expressed what millions of Cubans hide out of fear or mere survival instinct.”

“Pronto El Sexto, el grafitero Danilo Maldonado, cumplirá nueve meses de injusta cárcel en Cuba. Se trata de uno de los artistas más creativos y originales con que cuenta la sociedad civil cubana, y alguien contra quien no ha podido el estado de terror que permea el ambiente cultural en la Isla. Y esto es lo que no puede tolerar el funcionariado castrista, que un artista cubano se revele contra el miedo. Por eso está preso El Sexto: Por expresar, a través de su arte, lo que millones de cubanos tienen que esconder por miedo o por simple instinto de supervivencia.”

-Armondo Añel, writer, critic and editor-in-chief of the Neo Club Press (Miami, FL)

“Danilo ‘El Sexto’ is an example of the new generation that rises up for freedom of expression, despite all of the decades of pro-governmental indoctrination. I call on my academic colleagues to join this petition. We also hope that Pope Francis, during his historic visit to Cuba, advocates for his immediate unconditional liberty.”

“Danilo ‘EL Sexto’ es un ejemplo de la nueva generación que se rebela por la libertad de expresión, a pesar de todas las décadas de indoctrinación pro-gubernamental. Apelo a mis colegas académicos a que se unan a esa petición. Esperemos también que el Papa Francisco, durante su histórica visita a Cuba, al menos abogue por su libertad incondicional inmediata.”

-Professor Rolando Alum, Jr., anthropologist, (New Jersey)

“One day, I received a CD recording of a voice informing against the National Security. They had come to Danilo Maldonado’s house looking for him. ‘I am El Sexto,’ said that voice, ‘and I will continue marking the city.’ A group of us heard his voice; we became excited as we listened to that voice and its conviction. It was our voice, emerging from him. Our hero, El Sexto said, ‘I am the Cuban People.’ We are all like our hero El Sexto, cloistered in a Prison Island, and we cannot take it anymore.”

“Un día llegó a mis manos un CD con una voz que denunciaba los golpes de la Seguridad del Estado en la puerta de una casa buscando a Danilo Maldonado. Yo Soy el Sexto, dijo esa voz, y voy a seguir marcando la ciudad.Lo escuchamos en grupo emocionados con aquella voz y su convicción en lo que decía. Era nuestra voz.Y apareció él. El Sexto Héroe, diciendo yo soy el Pueblo Cubano. Somos el Sexto héroe enclaustrados en una Isla Prisión, y no aguantamos más.”

-Luis Eligio Pérez and Kizzy Macías, performative poets from the art community group Omni Zona Franca of La Habana (Miami, FL)

“You have thrown me out from home
For having told you the truth
I do not longer exist in my neighborhood
For having woken up
Think about it twice before breaking my windows
I will not leave!

I know you are trying to silence me
And to slice me down
To fully demoralize me
For wishing my dignity
I am a bad example and this is why I am staying
I will not leave! I will not leave!

Take it all away from me
Make me bleed if you want
It is your role and you play it well
Nevertheless here I stay
I will not leave… I will not leave

After denigrating me
I no longer have to hide
My dangerous words
My alternative position
Now I feel more free than ever
I will not leave! I will not leave!

Take it all from me
Erase me from your life
You will not get away with lies
Since I am not moving from here
I will not leave! I will not leave!
Take it all from me
Censor my thoughts
Because there are thousands more like me
What I feel is contagious
And this is why… I will not leave!”


“Me has botado de la casa
Por decirte la verdad
Ya en mi vecindad no existo
Por lograr mi despertar
Piénsalo bien al romper mis cristales
Yo no me voy!

Se que intentas silenciarme
Y rajarme a la mitad
Desmoralizarme entero
Por desear mi dignidad
Soy mal ejemplo y por eso me quedo
Yo no me voy! Yo no me voy!

Quítame todo
Hazme sangrar si quieres
Es tu papel y lo haces bien
Sin embargo aquí me quedo
Yo no me voy…Yo no me voy!

Desde que me denigraste
Ya no tengo que ocultar
Mis palabras peligrosas
Mi postura marginal
Ahora me siento mas libre que nunca
Yo no me voy! Yo no me voy!

Quítame todo
Bórrame de tu vida
Con la mentira no podras
Pues de aquí yo no me muevo
Yo no me voy! Yo no me voy!

Quítame todo
Censura mis pensamientos
Que como yo hay miles mas
Lo que siento es contagioso
Y es por eso que yo…yo no me voy!”

-Gustavo Rex, Cuban-American actor and singer-songwriter (Los Angeles, CA)

About the Author

Sampsonia Way is an online magazine sponsored by City of Asylum/Pittsburgh that seeks to protect and advocate for writers who may be endangered, to educate the public about threats to writers and literary expression, and to create a community in which endangered writers thrive and literary culture is a valued part of life.

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