My Private Gorbachev

Mikhail Gorbachev in 1991 during the final session of the Supreme Soviet. (EFE/EPA/Vassili Korneyev)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Reinaldo Escobar, Havana, 31 August 2022 — In April 1985 Mikhail Gorbachev appeared before a full session of the Soviet Union’s Communist Party Central Committee to present his initial proposals for what would ultimately be known as perestroika (restructuring). My friend, the poet and journalist Julio Martinez, was the first to warn me that what was happening in the USSR was unprecedented and could have repercussions for Cuba.

At that moment we became “perestroikos,” addicted to News from Moscow, a weekly publication that for years had been sold on news stands but which overnight became a source of revelations on the failures of Stalinism and what had been known as real socialism.

The fantasy that our own country could undertake a similar restructuring, and the informational transparency that came with it (glasnost), thrilled those of us who still believed in the myth of socialism with a human face. Though we were many, few dared to publicly align themselves with this experiment.

Gorbachev’s actions, almost 10,000 kilometers from the island, had a lasting impact on me. At the suggestion from my poet friend, I decided in early 1987 to leave my comfortable position as a journalist for Cuba International, a monthly magazine dedicated to sweetening our reality, to become an op-ed columnist for the newspaper Juventud Rebelde, from where — oh, how naive! — I tried to promote a kind of tropical perestroika.

At a historic meeting with students from the University of Havana’s School of Journalism at the headquarters of the Cuban Communist Party Central Committee, the then all-powerful Carlos Adana announced that there would be no perestroika happening here and that it had been decided to suspend distribution of News from Moscow, Sputnik and New Times, the three Soviet publications that gave breath to Cuba’s pro-reform intellectual environment.

This was in October 1988. In December of that year I was fired from Juventud Rebelde and prohibited “for life” from practicing the profession of journalism.

The politician who has died at age ninety-one did not succeed in his goal to expand socialism. Instead he caused the fall of Eastern Europe’s communist bloc while managing to turn me into a free man. I am indebted to him and to my friend Julio Martinez, who ended up committing suicide in exile.


COLLABORATE WITH OUR WORKThe 14ymedio team is committed to practicing serious journalism that reflects Cuba’s reality in all its depth. Thank you for joining us on this long journey. We invite you to continue supporting us by becoming a member of 14ymedio now. Together we can continue transforming journalism in Cuba.