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Viva Mi Gente!: 12 Latino Celebrities and Characters Who Thrust HIV/AIDS Into Popular Culture

May 15, 2013


Reinaldo Arenas

Reinaldo Arenas

Reinaldo Arenas was a Cuban poet, novelist, playwright, and among Cuba's most famous writers and expatriates. Though an early supporter of Fidel Castro, once Arenas saw what was happening to Cuba's people, especially its LGBT population, he withdrew support and began to rebel, and eventually lived as an exile in the U.S. He was imprisoned in 1974 in Cuba for "ideological deviation" and for publishing abroad without official consent.

In his autobiography, Before Night Falls, Arenas recounted his sexually active lifestyle and claimed to have slept with more than 5,000 men. Though many of his friends dispute the number, they do not dispute his promiscuity. His autobiography was turned into a movie starring Javier Bardem as Arenas and directed by Julian Schnabel (The Diving Bell and the Butterfly).

Diagnosed with AIDS in 1987, Arenas committed suicide in 1990 in New York. In his suicide letter, he wrote: "Due to my delicate state of health and to the terrible depression it causes me not to be able to continue and struggling for the freedom of Cuba, I am ending my life ... I want to encourage the Cuban people out of the country as well as on the Island to continue fighting for freedom ... Cuba will be free. I already am." Even in his last words, his life and his fate were seen as intimately tied to his homeland.

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