The European Politics Blog

The 1959 revolution in Cuba is fondly remembered for many reasons, and one of those reasons was what many never thought it would be until recently: the revolution in cars! Foreign-made cars went on sale in the country only recently, and with labels of sky-high prices attached to them.

For example, a Peugeot 508 is priced at $262,000, while a Peugeot 508 is listed at $29,000 in United Kingdom stores, which wouldn’t really be deemed affordable by middle-income Cuba, because state salaries in the country average at about $20 a month.

Permit-free automobile purchases is one in a long line of reforms being unveiled by the government, in an effort to revitalize the economy. The state of the transport sector is particularly dire because most of the structure is broken or derelict, and there is little hope that money can be raised through sales of plenty of new and imported cars to improve the sector because no one has any stable income to purchase these cars to begin with.

Raul Castro’s recent attempts at upgrading the Cuban economic model has been viewed by some members of the society as gravely disrespectful or just plain madness, because chances of people getting a car are next to nothing, because only a handful of cars have been sold at several markets, with a one sold at $50,000.

Pre-2011 Cubans were only allowed to sell cars sold before the 1959 revolution, and as a stark contrast many in the country are viewing this change as damaging to the heritage of the country too. Any honest revolutionary worker wouldn’t be able to afford any of these imported cars at such prices, but what’s interesting about this car revolution in Cuba is that it marks an end to the vintage automobile era for the nation.

These colourful vintage cars are icons in Havana. You can spot them everywhere, from acting as taxis to cars for weddings, every mannerism, design and shade of Porsche, Ferrari. Chevrolet and Ford, you can imagine from the 1950’s and the years before still motor around the country.

Optimism about the news are few and far in-between but it’s still there. Some families who have been receiving money from Cubans working abroad, have been eagerly awaiting the news, just so that they can go ahead and purchase brand new cars themselves, very much like how the 2011 reforms saw many Cubans exchange their cars with their neighbours.

New cars were only allowed to be sold after a much-sought after government permit, but this was only granted to high ranking officials, athletes and artists and they often made the black markets for large sums of cash. This privilege has now been abolished, despite its nature of acting as a sort-of a state gift to all those who had been of great service to their country.

Although such special endowments, often stand in the way of getting abused sometimes, it does provide many Cubans working overseas with the opportunity to purchase a second-hand car, preferably Russian, as those were the only foreign cars that could be spotted around Cuban markets, with only $5,000 or $10,000 savings in the bank. These sky-high prices are now benefitting hardly any diaspora of the Cuban population.

Raul Castro hasn’t been very successful at reigning in a lot of much-needed free-market reforms, since taking over power from Fidel Castro in 2008. Perhaps the best way to approach this stale response to the reforms is to bring in more imported cars to Cuban shores, so that the price tag for that dream Chevrolet of many, can stop seeing regular spikes and instead become affordable for much of the Cuban middle-class.

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