Sputnik Magazine and Cuba’s Tropical Glasnot (Part I)

Daisy Valera

HAVANA TIMES — A handful of Sputnik magazines broke the uniformity of my neighbor Manuel’s bookcase, filled to the bursting point with whodunits and mechanics manuals.

Manuel was an educated member of the working class, a mechanic employed by a preserves factory, a worker vanguard award laureate, the grandfather of one my best childhood friends, someone who had had the privilege of seeing Lenin’s embalmed body in person. He had the habit of starting most of his phrases with “if the Soviet Union still existed…”

It was 1995 and his words were divested of meaning by my geography atlas (where the USSR still appeared on the map) and by the professional aspirations of my peers. More than ten of us, as I recall, wanted to be either astronauts or scientists.

The USSR still existed for us and I would brush the dust off the Sputnik magazines in Manuel’s personal library. I would revisit Leopold the Cat (a soviet comic strip) and gawk at photographs of an underwater birth. More than read, I looked at a different world.

The photo-montages, the intense and radiant colors, the quality and distinctive smell of the paper – these are vague and pleasant memories I retain from my childhood.

Sputnik magazines survived Cuba’s Special Period. Some days ago, I bought an issue published in 1989. In the section titled “Letters from Readers”, I found the following:

 “ (…) I believe that, today, we have a truly democratic system in the USSR, which knows authentic freedom of the press and of expression for the first time in years. The country is finally on the right path. It was signed by Rolando Felix Olive of Camaguey, Cuba.”

Perhaps Rolando, sick of the Cuban press and its dull, three-colored pages made of sugar-cane bagasse, had hoped that the island’s media would follow in Moscow’s footsteps.

At the time, however, Cuba opted for the editorial parameters of Pravda and Soviet Russia over those of Novedades de Moscu (“Moscow Life”) or the Gaceta Independiete.

Today, when we are witnessing a kind of tropical perestroika, undertaking company streamlining measures and adopting forms of self-employment that recall the Soviet-styled State Company Law (1988) and the Individual Employment Activity Code (1987), Cuba’s official discourse tells us that the press must support the development of a prosperous and sustainable form of socialism.

It looks as though Mr. Olive may have had to wait twenty years to see a much-awaited Cuban glasnost.

Daisy Valera

Daisy Valera:Soil scientist and blogger. I write from Mexico City, where Havana sometimes becomes so small that it disappears. However in others, the Cuban capital is a city so past and present that it steals your breath.