Cuba: Why it's wrong to mourn passing of island's old US cars

Jan 6, 2014

Vintage cars are 'symbols of oppression' and only tourists will mourn their consignment to scrap heap

VINTAGE American cars are as synonymous with Cuba as salsa music and a well-rolled cigar. But sweeping changes to the country's import laws may have spelled the beginning of the end for the country's fleet of ancient Studebakers and Oldsmobiles.

For almost 50 years, Havana's streets have been jammed with the kind of big, chrome-covered cars that are consigned to museums and collectors' garages elsewhere in the world. They were made prior to the 1959 revolution that swept Fidel Castro to power. Cubans were forced to keep them on the road due to "tight domestic controls and US sanctions" that prevented most people from buying imported vehicles The Guardian reports.

But in the latest of a series of economic reforms, the council of ministers headed by Raul Castro, Fidel's brother, has opened up the car market to all citizens". As a result, one of Cuba's "most distinctive anachronisms" is under threat.

While foreign tourists may mourn the disappearance of the ancient cars, they're missing the point, writes The Guardian's Mark Wallace. He says the vehicles are "icons of oppression" that should be scrapped.

Describing their demise as a tragedy is "patronising nonsense," writes Wallace. If Cubans had the choice they would have consigned them to the scrap heap years ago. The only reason they didn't is that "the communist dictatorship that rules them did not allow it".

Wallace adds: "The motor museum driving Cuba's roads each day might seem quaint to tourists, who can go back to their air-conditioned, reliable and safe modern cars when their holiday is over – in reality the sight is a symptom of the way in which dictatorship runs down the lives of those forced to labour beneath it."

Many Cubans are certainly keen to upgrade their cars. But as AP reports, the price of new imported vehicles may prevent many of them doing so. When prospective buyers visited Havana's car showrooms on Friday – the first day the new import laws came into force – they found "sharply hiked prices, some of them light years beyond all but the most well-heeled islanders", AP says.

A new Kia Rio hatchback that costs $13,600 in the US will cost a Cuban motorist $42,000. Meanwhile, a Peugeot 508 sedan, the most luxurious of which lists for the equivalent of about $53,000 in the UK, costs $262,000 in Havana.

It will be up to the Cuban government to reduce the prices because it has a monopoly on sales and decides the market value of vehicles.

Guillermo Flores, a 27-year-old computer engineer told AP: "Let's see if a revolutionary worker who lives honourably on his salary can come and buy a car at these prices. This is a joke on the people."

Sign up for our daily newsletter

Read more:

Disqus - noscript

$42,000 for a Kia? Gosh, central government planning really is a blessing to the people, isn't it? Along with the excellent, free health care in Cuba...I'm wondering why there is anyone left in Florida. I would think they'd all be Havana.

Cuba is the perfect example that George Orwell pointed to in his book Animal Farm. The people suffer while the socialist elite live in luxury. Castro is worth 77 million dollars that he stole from his people. The stench of their oppression and racism is staggering.

This Mike Wallace of the Guardian sounds like a car salesman. He just can't wait to turn the Cubans into a bunch of consumers. I think their vintage cars is a sign of the Cuban people's resourcefulness and ingenuity NOT OPPRESSION. Why do people need to get new cars every 8 to 10 years? Just to support this worlds economy? Maybe if their old Classic well kept cars needed new engines, they should be replaced with modern fuel injection efficient engines so their air will be cleaner. Our beautiful old classic cars are forms of art that should be preserved and not thrown into the crusher.