Prior to September 2011, the free trade of automobiles in Cuba was restricted to vehicles that were already on the island. This old law explains why there are so many 1950s or older cars, most of them American-made, rumbling through Cuban streets. Although the classic cars of Cuba are as iconic as their cigars, the lack of modern vehicles brought into this Caribbean island nation is a massive problem.
Not only are the old fifties models losing their functionality, they are dangerous compared to the safety standards available in today’s automobile market.
The living vintage car museum on Cuba’s roads is a bitter reminder of their turbulent history. Communist dictatorship prevented the import of modern vehicles since the revolution in 1959 but this is finally about to change.
Over the past six decades, only a chosen few living in Cuba could win government approval to import a modern motor car. Raúl Castro, President of the Council of State of Cuba since 2008, has finally slacked the restrictions on vehicle imports.
According to Granma, the Communist Party newspaper, "The retail sale of new and used motorcycles, cars, vans, small trucks and mini buses for Cubans and foreign residents, companies and diplomats is freed up".
Not quite. According to Mark Wallace of The Guardian, the availability of new cars is just a baby step toward freedom in Cuba.
According to reports, these newly important cars are much too expensive compared to the humble income of most Cubans. For example, a used Jeep in South Africa will set you back about R500 000 to R800 000, depending on the model. In Cuba, a four year old Jeep has a price tag of US$90 000, which currently translates to over a million Rand.
The high price tags on second hand cars are meant to help their government improve transportation infrastructure, but what does that matter if Cubans are still forced to rely on their beat up classics? Almost no-one in Cuba can afford the freedom of owning a modern car, and once again it looks like Communism is providing a system where some are just a little more equal than others.