The Cuban Plot Behind the Murder of American Art Dealer Brent Sikkema

American art dealer Brent Sikkema. (Flickr/Cámara de Comercio de Bogotá)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Havana, January 24, 2024 — The life of 75-year-old American gallery owner Brent Sikkema, who  was murdered on Sunday, January 14, in Rio de Janeiro led him time and again to Cuba. His trips to Havana and his relationships with those active in the city’s art scene and nightlife raise many questions about his death, allegedly at the hands of a 30-year-old Cuban named Alejandro Triana Prévez.

Sikkema’s final visit to Cuba lasted just a few days, from September 16 to 23, 2023. Unlike on previous occasions, he did not stay at the apartment he once shared with his former Cuban partner, Daniel G., to whom he had been married and with whom he was going through a messy divorce. Instead, he chose to stay at the high-end Elvira Mi Amor Hotel on Campostela Street in Old Havana.

He decided to stay there rather than at the house he had bought years earlier in Kohly, an area in the Havana suburb of Playa. Because foreigners are legally prohibited from owning property in Cuba, he decided to register the home under name of his partner.* Subsequent litigation between the two, and the large sums of money that Daniel G. was demanding in the U.S. courts as part of a divorce settlement, led Sikemma to avoid the home that held so many memories.

The last time Sikkema visited Cuba, he only stayed for a few days, between September 16 and 23 of last year 

The plastic artist José Gabriel Capaz received him at the Elvira Mi Amor Hotel shortly after Sikkema landed on the Island. The luxurious home, which included a stately bathtub and a crystal chandelier, served as the backdrop for his last visit. His friends had no idea that, after saying goodbye to him at the airport on Saturday, they would never see him again.

Sikkema, an Illinois native, managed the gallery Sikkema Jenkins & Co., which he founded in New York’s Chelsea district in 1991. Its roster included high-profile artists such as Vik Muniz, Kara Walker and Venezuela’s Arturo Herrera. In Cuba, he also had a wide network of friends and acquaintances in the art world as well as in the hospitality sector and among foreign investors.

“They attacked him while he was sleeping. They stabbed him eighteen times,” says  a female friend who lives in Havana and who learned of his murder through a former partner of Sikkema. “He was a good man. He really liked to give and to help others. He had made Cuba his second home,” says the woman, who asks to be referred to as Isolda to protect her privacy.

“He was a very trusting man. I always told him, that he should keep an eye out because there were people who approached him with good intentions and others with evil intentions,” she says. Among those she claims took advantage of Sikkema’s kindness and status as a non-resident foreigner was a female cousin of Daniel G. “What that woman did was robbery. No matter how you put it, it was a robbery.”

Isolda is referring to Belkis Z., a university professor with an important position in Cuba’s National Assembly

Isolda is referring to Belkis Z., a university professor with an important position in Cuba’s National Assembly, who served as a frontwoman for Daniel G. and Sikkema’s purchase of a penthouse apartment atop an imposing building on Avenue of the Presidents between 19th and 21st streets, in Havana’s Vedado district. The building is located a few yards from the Polish Embassy.

Belkis Z. was supposed to be the only person with legal possession of the apartment. Daniel G. already had another house and in Cuba an individual is not allowed to own more than one property. Her mission, according to several sources close to the couple, was to look after the apartment and disappear once the property could pass into the hands of the real owner — the couple’s now 12-year-old son, L. Sikkema — when he was of legal age.

According to friends and acquaintances, undergirding all these plans was Sikkema’s dream that Cuba would open up politically and economically, allowing him to move freely and legally between his homes in New York and Havana. The diplomatic thaw that occured during the Obama administration had especially excited him and his real estate investments on the island were made during that period of rapprochement between the tw

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