Home News Mikhail Gorbachev, the communist leader who spent 300,000 pesetas in Lanzarote

Mikhail Gorbachev, the communist leader who spent 300,000 pesetas in Lanzarote


“Do you have 300,000 pesetas to leave Gorbachev and now I’m sending them to you?” This was the question that unsettled the businessman Francis Martinez in the summer of 1992, mainly because the one who made it was the King Juan Carlos I on the other end of the phone. He then staff supervisor at La Mareta residence It didn’t take him two seconds to answer: “Yes, yes, of course.” It was not the first time that she spoke with the monarch and she knew that the occasion deserved it. The last president of the USSR, Mikhail Gorbachev -who died last Tuesday-, visited Lanzarote after the invitation of the Spanish king and the Prime Minister, Felipe González. “They didn’t bring cash or cards, it was one of the details that struck me the most,” recalls the current president of the Lanzarote Business Confederation.

Martínez not only remembers this episode, the truth is that he has stored in his memory everything he experienced in the three weeks that the Russian leader spent on the island of volcanoes. His job was to supervise that all the personnel related to catering, cleaning and maintenance fulfilled their tasks perfectly. The work forced him to almost “live” with the guests and even many nights he had to sleep in La Mareta. So many hours allowed the businessman not only to know the details of the vacation, but also to grow fond of Mikhail Gorbachev and his wife, Raísa. “We spent a lot of time together and on top of that they endeared themselves,” admits Martínez.


The former general secretary of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the Soviet Union was accompanied by a not very large team and had no qualms about being seen. The images in the media reflected some of those moments: walking, shopping in local shops, enjoying a swim on the beach, etc. Martínez assures that the Russian leader was close from the first moment he set foot on the island. “It was a very special moment and very impressive due to the simplicity and humanity of the character,” insists the Canarian businessman, who recalls that during walks Gorbachev stopped “without problems” to sign autographs and greet everyone who approached. This is confirmed by the dozens of images that exist from the time.

Playing the guitar or watching football, some of the activities that Gorbachev carried out in La Mareta

The former Soviet president caused a very positive impact on Canarian society and specifically on Martínez. “He imposes having him in front of him, he is the person who has most impressed me to meet,” acknowledges the businessman, who assures that during his life he has met many “celebrities” by working at La Mareta. Despite the initial impact, Gorbachev was very close to all the workers at the Lanzarote residence. The conversations happened daily and they shared many moments to remember.

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The closeness was so great that the Russian leader cooked with Martínez on occasion. He entered the kitchen and compared Canarian gastronomy with that of his native country. “One of the times he told me that the Russian lamb was better,” recalls the Canarian businessman with a laugh. But that comment, it stayed at that, a punctual comment. The truth is that the Soviet leader opted for Canarian and Spanish gastronomy dishes during all his vacations. “They sent us some menus from Moncloa so that we had a reference, but the truth is that we didn’t pay any attention to them,” says Martínez, who assures that the dishes that were served were always simple and normal. “No lobster, no fancy stuff, they were totally smitten,” he insists.

Language was never a problem. The Russian and the Canarian managed to understand each other through the translator who accompanied the leader of the USSR at all times and thanks to a few words in English. Sometimes they even shared moments watching soccer games. Gorbachev was interested in the plays and the players and peppered the president of the Lanzarote Business Confederation with questions.

Life in La Mareta during those three weeks was calm. The guests preferred not to hold large events in the residence and enjoyed the benefits of the island and its facilities, in peace. “They had just come out of a very complicated situation in their country, a coup d’état, and they were looking for peace and rest,” says Martínez. The normal thing was that they had dinner, had a few drinks and around two in the morning they went to bed.

Although there were some other night that ended with a musical show. The businessman clearly remembers a specific episode in which Gorbachev accompanied him to his house to go get a guitar. “In principle I was going to go alone, but the escorts recommended that he go so that my wife would not be scared and understand what was happening,” clarifies the canary. And so it was, the Russian leader entered the door first and explained “as he could” the situation to the owner of the house who was shocked to see “face to face” the last president of the USSR.

Such was the affection that Martínez shared with the Soviet guests that summer that after his departure he received letters from them on two occasions. The texts were accompanied by photographs of some of the moments lived in that summer of 1992. In one of the images, the Russian leader can be seen on the steps of the plane before giving two kisses – a typical greeting from the Eastern country – to the businessman. The other snapshot includes a scene by the La Mareta pool. “I had many photographs of those days, but over time I have been losing sight of them,” laments the canary.

Gorbachev and Raísa were not the only ones who enjoyed the property located in Costa Teguise. In addition to members of the Spanish Royal Family, the German chancellors Helmut Kohl and Gerhard Schröder have also passed through there; Czech President Václav Havel; the president of Kazakhstan in 2005, Nusurtan Nazarabayev; and some Spanish presidents such as José María Aznar, José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero and Pedro Sánchez.

The Russian leader maintained contact with the canary through two letters that included two photographs of the summer

Precisely this last socialist leader spent his summer vacations in Lanzarote last August. The closeness with the media was not the same as that of Gorbachev, there are almost no images of Sánchez on the island of volcanoes and there are very few testimonies of people who experienced meetings with the Spanish president. Martínez has also worked in La Mareta during the socialist’s vacations and acknowledges that the treatment is not the same as with the Russian. “He is usually more with friends or working locked up,” explains the businessman.

Despite having “different” relationships, the president of the Lanzarote Business Confederation assures that the Spanish politician also enjoys the Island with his bike rides and visits to the Costa Teguise market on Sundays. “He doesn’t lock himself in the house, he goes out every day and his daughters enjoy activities all the time,” he clarifies. Martínez considers that Sánchez is sociable and close and has details with the workers that are not published in the media, such as “buying electric bicycles for them to accompany him on his mountain routes.”

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