Los Frikis: Punks Who Chose to Infect Themselves with HIV in Castro’s Cuba

Communist Cuba wasn’t really the best place to be a punk rocker. Rebellious teens, known as los frikis (“the freaks”), used their radios to pick up American airwaves and rock out to groups like AC/DC and Metallica. However, getting the Led out came with a pretty steep price.Kids sporting long hair, ripped jeans, and T-shirts emblazoned with rock band logos were regularly assaulted by the police. When scruffy teens showed up for school, they were often surrounded and forcibly shaved. Anyone caught listening to rock music was tossed behind bars or sent to work in the sugarcane fields. The Berlin Wall had just collapsed, the USSR was falling apart, and Fidel Castro was freaking out. Hoping to keep his regime intact, the bearded director went after anyone who stepped out of line, cracking down hard on rock music and angrily shouting, “Socialism or death!” That’s when musicians accepted the challenge.

To escape persecution, Los Frikis chose to give themselves HIV for a chance at life in a Cuban AIDS sanitarium.

Rather than continue living on the streets and in areas where they would be harassed and persecuted, these self-infected Frikis found a place where they would be provided with food, shelter, and medicine. And once enough of them were sent to the sanitariums, they knew the sanitariums, in turn, would become a punk haven.

In 1989, the military handed over control of the sanitariums to the Ministry of Public Health, and under their progressive methodology, patients were allowed to listen to and play music, dress how they choose, and socialize with others both in and out of the sanitarium. They were far better accommodations than an average Cuban could afford at the time, let alone a Friki.

In a place where punk ideology was grounds for persecution, the Frikis still found themselves choosing to commit an otherwise unspeakable act.

Full article vice.com, podcast radiolab.org, documentary youtube.com. Some punk music of that time on pri.org

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