Danilo Maldonado Machado, also known as “El Sexto” (The Sixth) is a graffiti artist in Cuba, imprisoned since December 25, 2014, for attempting to perform an artistic action in a public space.
Danilo has spent nine months in the Valle Grande prison, charged with the crime of "contempt," and is waiting for a judicial process, where he faces a possible sentence of one to three years imprisonment.
For six years, Danilo has suffered police harassment, successive arbitrary arrests, detentions for more than 72 hours, searches of his home and confiscation of his works and his working materials. He suffers from bronchial asthma and has been affected by pneumonia.
- We remind the Cuban authorities that the right to freedom is indispensable for expression and artistic creation in virtue of Articles 19 and 27 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; protected by Article 15 of the International Covenant of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to which Cuba is a signatory and both of which are considered binding.
- We insist that the authorities eliminate the restrictions on freedom of expression, association and peaceful assembly.
- We express our concern because Danilo Maldonado has been detained solely for exercising his artistic activity, and urge that he be released immediately and without conditions, because he is a prisoner of conscience; he has been confined for his peaceful activism in the rescue of fundamental freedoms in Cuba.
- We insist that the Cuban authorities drop the case immediately.
- We ask the Cuban authorities to stop harassing and intimidating all the rest of the citizens who peacefully exercise their rights to freedom of expression and peaceful association.
- We insist that the Cuban authorities promote and protect the right to freedom of artistic creation, and the right to participate in the cultural life, to access culture and respect for cultural diversity.
The graffiti artist and activist Danilo Maldonado Machado, known as “El Sexto” (The Sixth), was arrested on December 25, 2014, when he took two animals painted with the names of Fidel and Raul and was about to drop them off in Havana’s Central Park, usually crowded, for a street intervention. He is formally charged with “contempt” and is awaiting trial. He faces a sentence of one to three years in prison.
The right to participate in public demonstrations is not recognized in the Cuban Constitution nor is it legally developed. The Penal Code, protecting individual rights includes the right to demonstrate and sanctions anyone who, in violation of the law, impedes the holding of a lawful meeting or demonstration, or a person from attending them. If the crime is committed by a public official, it is an abuse of office and the penalty is doubled.
However, the legal body itself considers that a crime is committed against public order by anyone who participates in meetings or demonstrations held in violation of the dispositions that regulate the exercise of this right, dispositions that do not exist. Sanctions are tripled for the organizers.
There is no procedure to notify or solicit authorization to hold a protest, nor legal recourse to appeal the refusal. However, there are frequently marches along central avenues, called and organized by the government itself, with a marked political-ideological character. The restrictions imposed on this right by the state, are not provided in law.
The situation of human rights in Cuba has deteriorated sharply in recent months, with ever more repressive practices entrenched mainly against the Ladies in White dissident movement and the activists who support them, and the government’s contempt has become ever more flagrant toward the recommendations made by the States parties before the Universal Human Rights Council during the periodic review, in which the priorities are the ratification and implementation of the Covenants on Civil and Political Rights and on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and their optional protocols.
In Cuba, “The educational and cultural policy is based on the Marxist ideology” and is tied to the “promotion of patriotic education and the communist training of new generations and the preparation of children, young people and adults for social life. The State, in order to raise the culture of the people, concerns itself with promotion and developing artistic education, the vocation for creation and the cultivation of art and the capacity to appreciate it.”
In 1961 Fidel Castro marked a limit for the full enjoyment and realization of the cultural rights of Cubans. In his speech “Words to the Intellectuals” his iconic phrase, “Within the Revolution, everything, outside the Revolution, no rights,” paraphrased the dictator Mussolini.
The Cuban Constitution says, “Artistic creativity is free as long as its content is not contrary to the Revolution,” contradicting itself as it continues: “The forms of expression in art are free.”
We believe that the imprisonment of the artist is an excessive punitive measure in response to the peaceful expression of the politically critical art of Danilo Maldonado and it is an attempt to silence and censor even more the artistic scene within the country.
We believe that society has the right for its public spaces to be spaces for creativity, for artistic expression; because they are also collective spaces of knowledge and debate. The public space belongs to civil society and not to governments, corporations or religious institutions.
We believe that it is the duty of the State to protect artists as key actors in social change and to defend their right to dissent, instead of gagging them, persecuting them and imprisoning them, when they have a critical attitude toward the government, which is also part of their role as artists: to question the reality that surrounds them and to be an active part of its evolutionary transformation.
Other government practices that threaten the enjoyment and full exercise of cultural rights and artistic-creative freedom in Cuba are:
- Institutional censorship with regard to almost all artistic manifestations.
- The theft of artist identity (in the case of independent festivals) by the State.
- The right of admission to cinemas, theaters, museums, galleries, theoretical lectures, denying entrance and participation in public spaces to people labeled as dissidents or Human Rights activists.
- The use of aesthetic criteria as political conditions through official censors charged with justifying censorship.
- Manipulation of artists and intellectuals committing them to position themselves with exclusively political measures like the execution of three young men who hijacked a boat (2003).
- The social isolation of the artistic guild from smear campaigns and the intimidation of others.
- The State monopoly on public spaces and institutions that give authorization to engage in public activities.
- Discrimination and social cancellation of a person as reprisal for their critical attitude.
- With all institutions controlled by the State, if there is forced expulsion there is no other institution than can take in the person.
- Limitations on the freedom of movement: people are blocked from moving to alternative spaces when they suffer from police harassment. Refusal of permission to leave or enter the country, confiscation of passports, arbitrary detentions, etc.
- Expulsion from schools, workplaces, institutions that protect artists, for political reasons.
- The application of self-censorship to daily behavior. (People naturally assume it: censorship is ordinary.)
- Physical violence in arbitrary arrests, home detentions, threats, home searches, confiscation of works and the means of work, police interrogations, prison, aggression against the family.
- Lack of official response to legal demands and citizen complaints that permit the exhaustion of domestic legal recourse.
- The right the authorities take for themselves to impose a single interpretation on an artistic work.
- The lack of legal recourse that permits the public recognition of initiatives independent of or alternative to the Ministry of Culture.
- Participation in political activities and military training is compulsory in the Cuban educational system.
- Ideological conditioning in arts education.
- Forced expulsions.
- The impact of the Ministry of the Interior in the development and implementation of cultural policies and in the behavior of arts institutions.
- The use of artist and intellectuals in the spaces of political repression.
- The promotion and support of the professional careers of artists and intellectuals is conditioned by their demonstrated compliance with official policy (policies related to publication, movie production, exhibition spaces).
- Independent NGOs are not entitled to receive funding under the “New Law of Cultural Investment,” requiring all financing to pass through the Ministry of Culture.
- Demonization of financing secured by artists officially discriminated against.
- Use of art as popular recreation and not as a method of critical questioning and a space for promoting freedom.