A Dissident Cuban Artist Reflects On The Anniversary Of Castro’s Death
On the night Fidel Castro died, Danilo Maldonado Machado went for a walk in downtown Havana. The streets were peaceful; most residents of the city were asleep or at home listening to the news. Maldonado took out his smartphone and starting recording a video of himself.
“Here we are on [Avenue] 23,” he laughed, leaning against a street sign. “El año que se murió la yegua.”
This last sentence is a little awkward to translate; literally it means “the year the mare died.” Yegua, or “mare”, is a fairly strong insult in Spanish, which is to say it’s not the type of thing the average politically-conscious Cuban would be calling the recently-deceased Comandante during a time of official national mourning.
“El año que se murió la yegua!” Maldonado repeated, to uncomfortable looks from passersby. He was jubilant, yet disappointed at the tepid reaction to the president’s death. “Unfortunately,” he told me later, “The number of people I would have liked to see shouting ‘freedom!’ in the streets didn’t turn out.” As he passed by the Hotel Tryp Habana Libre, Maldonado had a sudden inspiration.
The building, one of the tallest and most prominent in the Havana skyline, has an unusual history. It was originally the Havana Hilton; after Fidel Castro’s triumphant entry into Havana in 1959, he made it his headquarters. It was later nationalized, and in the early years of the revolution it housed a temporary Soviet embassy. Seized by the moment, Machado pulled out a can of spray paint and on the wall of the Habana Libre he wrote the words “se fue” ? roughly, “he’s gone”. Then he uploaded the video to Facebook.
“My friends sometimes think that I knew I was going to end up in prison,” he told me. “But the truth is I imagined there’d be a party in the streets, celebrating freedom.” Just a few hours later, state security was outside his door.
Maldonado, better known by his artistic alias El Sexto, has become one of Cuba’s most prominent political dissidents in recent years, notorious for his anti-government artwork. His arrest late last year was just the latest of many; he was detained in the run-up to president Obama’s 2016 diplomatic visit, and in 2014 for a scheme that involved painting the names “Raúl” and “Fidel” on a pair of pigs and releasing them in the streets, an homage to George Orwell’s anti-totalitarian novel Animal Farm. “10 months in prison, that cost me.” he recalls. “I got out thanks to a ton of people who helped make sure people found out about it on social media: Amnesty International, The Foundation for Human Rights in Cuba.”
Continue reading HERE.