[dropcap]M[/dropcap]any moons ago, my father served as an intelligence officer, even briefing President John F. Kennedy during the tense days of the Cuban Missile Crisis after his mission to the Bay of Pigs. (Don’t worry—his stint briefing President Kennedy and the Joint Chiefs of Staff is no longer classified information.) So, it’s a bit ironic, fifty-plus years later, that his son is doing a little intelligence gathering related to Cuba, albeit in a wildly different capacity and in an era of renewed relations between the U.S. and our neighbor ninety miles south of Florida. Thanks to Sean Black, who traveled on behalf of A&U with the Black AIDS Institute’s delegation to Cuba, we have our own intelligence briefing to share with you, dear reader.
The stakes between my father’s situation and ours are quite different, but perhaps similarly high. While Cold War-era America was caught up in protecting itself from what it perceived to be the threat of communism, Obama’s America is more interested in seeking out alliances with the Cuban government and its people. By lifting the embargo, President Obama has not only paved the way for economic exchange, but also for informational exchange. And that’s exactly how we approached our trip—seeking to be educated about how Cuba has managed so many successes in the fight against AIDS (the country has the lowest HIV transmission rate in the Western hemisphere), as well as gained momentum in LGBT equality. Although I may never know all of the ins and outs of the Cuban Missile Crisis, we do know as magazine editors that the story of sex education, safe sex teachings, prevention, and drug treatment in Cuba is no longer controversial; indeed, some may call their latest approaches to ending AIDS commendable.
One hopes the successes are sustained and ironically they seemingly hinge on the leadership of a Castro—Mariela, that is. Mariela Castro, daughter of current president Raúl Castro and niece of Fidel Castro, is the director of CENESEX, which works to ensure the principles of the revolution apply to individuals of all genders and sexual orientation. But can one government-sponsored centralized agency do the work that a multitude of nonprofit organizations in the U.S. have accomplished? Is it better to have a singular vision or a variety of independent perspectives? What are the downsides to the lack of personal liberties in a country which is the opposite of a country like the U.S., where oppositional organizations like ACT UP are allowed to flourish? Whatever the answer, certainly we cannot balk at Cuba’s free, universal healthcare system.
In this era of American politics, when some candidates think nothing of emulating racism, sexism, and homophobia for the masses, it is refreshing to hear an actual leader defend human rights. Mariela Castro, in this month’s cover story, takes pains to not only affirm that socialism is a work-in-progress but to insert LGBT individuals and individuals living with HIV/AIDS into Cuba’s project of emancipation. Their inclusion “was due, and would be just, based on these principles,” she tells A&U’s Sean Black.
Elsewhere in this issue, thanks to guest editor Phill Wilson, who led the Black AIDS Institute delegation, we learn about Cuba from various perspectives, both American (see “Building Communidad”) and Cuban (see the columns, Role Call and Survival Guide). This issue also features, perhaps as an inadvertent counterpoint, some of the ways that American LGBTers are helping to raise AIDS awareness—Lester Strong interviews photographer David Hilliard about creating art under the long shadow of AIDS in this month’s Gallery; and Alina Oswald uncovers fresh approaches to engagement in testing and care when she reports on New York City’s Kiki community.
Whatever your stance on Cuba’s prevention efforts is, we hope you come away from this issue with a deeper understanding of what needs to be true: When it comes to ending AIDS, we need to build bridges. We need strong allies. We need to pool our intelligence for the common good.
David Waggoner is Editor in Chief and Publisher of A&U, the first national HIV/AIDS magazine in the U.S.