It might surprise people to hear that Cuba has one of the lowest HIV-prevalence rates in the world. According to UNAIDS, 22,000 people in Cuba are living with HIV, a country that was the first to eliminated mother-to-child transmission because of domestically produced antiretrovirals through its healthcare programs (as Plus previously reported).
But in the late 1980s, it was a different story.
As examined in Vice's documentary about Los Frikis (a community of Cuban punks refusing to conform to social norms), during Castro’s government, those who considered themselves to be “punks” were often targeted and harassed because of their lack of social conformity.
To escape persecution, Frikis injected blood from HIV-positive friends into their veins so they can be sent into quarantined sanitariums, where they’d be fed, sheltered and have a supply of medicine.
As more people began to infect themselves, these sanitariums started housing more and more Frikis — at one point, the entire sanatorium was 100 percent full of them.
"You could hear rock 'n' roll and heavy metal coming from every house," longtime Friki Yoandra Cardoso, who still lives on the grounds of a former sanitarium, recalled to VICE.
The idea began during the late 1980s when Cuba lost financial support from the Soviet Union, which led to what Castro called the “Special Period” in the country's history. It also happened to coincide with the AIDS crisis.
Throughout Cuba, there were massive food and gasoline shortages, which prompted everyone in the country to ration their supplies — many Cubans are still traumatized from this era. As a result of the chaos, it was ordered by Castro to send HIV-positive people to quarantined sanitariums.
Many Frikis viewed these sanitariums as an opportunity to leave the streets and constant persecution, to build a refuge for themselves outside their communities. So they devised a plan to pass HIV amongst each other for — what seemed like — a better future.
"He knew that by infecting himself he would be sent to the sanitarium," Niurka Fuentes said to VICE about her late husband, a Friki named Papo La Bala (or Papo the Bullet). "He knew that he would meet other people like him in there, the police would leave him alone, and he would be able to live his life in peace."
To be a Friki at the time meant you spoke against the government, and such ideology meant constant persecution in a Castro-led regime. Watch the Vice documentary below: