The Sputnik that got on Fidel Castro’s Nerves / Tania Diaz Castro

The Soviet magazine was prohibited.  Goodbye goose who lays the golden eggs. The Special Period arrived.

Mikhail Gorbachev and Ronald Reagan

HAVANA, Cuba — The last Soviet SPUTNIK magazine that circulated in Cuba, corresponding to the month of November 1988, was the one that got on Fidel Castro’s nerves. In it, an extensive article by Yelizaveta Dabrina recounts the details of the last years of Vladimir Ilich Lenin during his illness, the will where he exposed the reasons for which Joseph Stalin ceased to be Secretary General of the Central Committee and in which he practically proves that a dispute between Stalin and the wife of Lenin could have hastened the death of the Bolshevik leader.

The Magazine SPUTNIK, whose name comes from the satellite that the Soviets put in orbit in 1957, could only survive for 24 years, as in 1991 it was definitively shut down after the collapse of the USSR. It was considered the counterpart of the famous Reader’s Digest from the United States, and although it was published in seven languages, it was imported to very few countries, principally because of the bad quality of its texts and its lousy translations.

To the surprise of many, with the advent of Perestroika and Glasnost, SPUTNIK was transformed into a news outlet that everyone looked for in order to learn the reality about what was happening in the USSR.

The last Sputnik magazine that circulated in Cuba

There began to appear on its pages stories that the Soviet Communists would have never approved:  repression of dissidents, freedom the common Soviets had to say what they thought, the reasons for Soviet invasions, the bad quality of their products, economic difficulties, prohibited films, the image of the communist bureaucrat, etc.

It was remarked in Cuban newspapers of the time that when Fidel Castro saw a full color photo of Mikhail Gorbachev seated next to Ronald Reagan in the Kremlin on May 30, 1988, in SPUTNIK Magazine number 11, all hell broke loose in the main office of the Cuban Communist Party Central Committee.

One of the first decisions he made, on sensing the disintegration of the USSR, was to order an inventory of food crops, “in case he had to feed them in case of war” and to approve 28 austerity measures for saving hard currency.

On exactly August 4, 1989, the Granma newspaper published an article entitled “An Urgent Decision,” where it explained why the circulation of SPUTNIK, Moscow News and others had been suspended, although since November of the year before, with the last November issue, it already was impossible to acquire the Magazine at that time, the one most coveted by Cubans anxious for liberty. SPUTNIK’s new thinking was clear: The Castro regime had to resolve its economic problems without outside help. It had lost its godfather forever.

Cubanet, February 4, 2014,

Translated by mlk.