Cubans Can Now Purchase Cars

Haroldo Dilla Alfonso*

Car for sale in Cuba.  Foto: cubaencuentro.com
Car for sale in Cuba.  Photo: cubaencuentro.com

HAVANA TIMES — The Cuban government’s recent decision to authorize the purchase of vehicles in the country is a positive development. For decades, the Cuban leadership was in good measure able to dominate the population by fragmenting everything (society, markets, public office, memory), such that any unity was possible only at the very top of the ladder. Accordingly, anything that serves to straighten out this tangled system of authoritarian rule is beneficial to society.

Needless to say, the measure will also have a number of problematic consequences.

The first are its repercussions for the environment and cities. We can expect these to be significant in Cuba, a country with severe public transportation shortages, where private vehicles are perceived as a need.

In a city like Havana, for instance, a slight increase in the total number of vehicles will result in traffic jams, a lack of parking spaces, a gas station deficit and other problems inherent to a city whose infrastructure is basically what it was 60 years ago.

In such a situation, authorities would have to decide what to do with thoroughfares such as 5th Avenue, which, though architecturally lavish, is restricted in terms of traffic capacity, having merely two lanes on each side. They would also have to decide which buildings to tear down to make room for parking lots.

In a city like Havana, for instance, a slight increase in the total number of vehicles will result in traffic jams, a lack of parking spaces, a gas station deficit and other problems inherent to a city whose infrastructure is basically what it was 60 years ago.

We must add that many of the vehicles purchased will be used cars, whose exhaust, coupled with that of their Soviet counterparts, will continue to increase air pollution levels, in a city that already has areas where it is practically impossible to breath.

The situation would obviously have been different if the State resources squandered on the whims of Cuba’s “supreme leader” – in extra-continental wars, digging useless tunnels and chasing after Olympic gold medals – had been spent on a rational urban transportation system, not unlike those that operate in all major Latin American cities (with greater or fewer deficiencies). But that’s all history now.

What isn’t history, what points rather to the future, is the aim of these liberalizing measures undertaken as part of General/President Raul Castro’s reform process. If we look at the most significant incentives advanced by the government in recent years, it isn’t difficult to see that a great many of these are aimed at creating spaces of consumption for Cuba’s emerging middle class.

This is aimed at satisfying the needs of the sectors that are benefitting from the country’s liberalization (which is indispensable if the aim is to have these sectors continue to function as economic actors) and at consolidating the social foundations of Cuba’s coming capitalism.

The liberalization of the automobile market – just like the previous liberalization of the housing, hotel, cellular phone and other markets – isn’t aimed at the general population which remains at the margins, without social mobility and excluded from the hard currency consumer market.

If we look at the most significant incentives advanced by the government in recent years, it isn’t difficult to see that a great many of these are aimed at creating spaces of consumption for Cuba’s emerging middle class.

The measures are designed to benefit the sectors that have been able to swell the ranks of those whom technocrats refer to as “winners”, essentially made up of successful private businesses (in Cuba, this always entails political acquiescence), corrupt public officials and people who receive remittances from abroad.

We will continue to see new steps in this direction in the not-so-distant future. One such step, for instance, could be offering cable TV services at high prices, with politically innocuous programming.

Another could be providing private, home Internet services, as recently suggested by an economist during a talk with high Ministry of the Interior (MININT) officials (a conversation which, curiously enough, was filmed by a MININT crew and uploaded to YouTube without objections).

Just as interesting is the fact that the economist also invited MININT officials to control such activities, as they have “successfully” done so far. This is an interesting development which suggests we may be witnessing the emergence of a conservative middle class that will support – or will not oppose – the government just as long as it can bask in the magic of consumer culture – at least for the duration of this transition to the Third World capitalism currently being planned by the military and the technocrats.
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(*) A Havana Times translation of the original published in Spanish by Cubaencuentro.com.


24 thoughts on “Cubans Can Now Purchase Cars

  • January 5, 2014 at 9:10 am
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    Develop 5th Avenue to take more cars. ..well that never stopped the Uk from being allowed to buy.Our roads are grid locked.
    Long live Socialist Cuba. The US keeps up the embargo because it does not want a fair country that looks after its people. USA ,were 1% of the population have 90% of the wealth & 10% of that is Saudi money..

  • January 3, 2014 at 9:58 pm
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    You seriously know absolutely everything about nothing. Cuba has been importing Mercedes, Audis, Volvos, Ladas, Peugeot, Fords and many others since 1998 by buying them through a canadian company which will appear to you if you just google it, at the same prices any other country does, but in our case because we cubans have the worst debt reputation when paying back money, we must pay it in cash.

    Castro said last year that it was going to be 50%, not 210%.

  • January 3, 2014 at 9:55 pm
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    Car prices are ultra capitalist, same with the first cellphones ever sold by CubaCell or CCom, Motorola StarTac at 1500CUC.

    Don’t be surprised now that all the world can see what happens in Cuba thanks tho the internet.

    And if Castro proclaims to be a Socialist&Communist, then there shouldn’t be any business with the Capitalists, PERIOD.

  • January 3, 2014 at 8:30 pm
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    That’s irrelevant. The prices make no sense at all any way you do the math, regardless of the produce used to compare. You don’t need a degree in economics to see that.

  • January 3, 2014 at 6:41 pm
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    Perhaps you are not aware that Cuba has no automobile industry and must buy cars at capitalist market prices.
    Again I would ask that you compare the rate of car ownership in Cuba with that of any similar capitalist country which is under economic attack by the U.S. .
    We have to compare apples with apples to have an honest debate.

  • January 3, 2014 at 5:11 pm
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    ….ummm did you see the article in HT showing the price of cars in Cuba? Hardly competitive and most definitely not socialist.

  • January 3, 2014 at 3:11 pm
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    Cuba didn’t allow Cubans to buy cars at all for more than 50 years period. Why would cubans allow foreign to buy antique cars, in very low prices hence the internal financial crisis? Communist & Socialist Cuba must not allow Capitalists to take the goods of the island.

  • January 3, 2014 at 12:06 pm
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    why?

  • January 3, 2014 at 10:07 am
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    I know what you are trying to get across but please know that Moores “law” dictates nothing of the sort. You are having some challenges grasping the term law, in the scientific sense. ….Let me help

    – In the language of science, the word “law” describes an analytic statement. It gives us a formula that tells us what things will do.

    As I had indicated before, there is no fundamental rule in the universe that guides how powerful a newly made integrated circuit will be at any given time. What has Indeed according to Michio Kaku, …”in about ten years or so, we will see the collapse of Moore’s Law. In fact, already, already we see a slowing down of Moore’s Law. Computer power simply cannot maintain its rapid exponential rise using standard silicon technology.” Intel Corporation has also admitted this.

    One obvious mistake you are making is confusing capability with implantation and scalability. Just because something can be done does not mean it will be done, and definitely not in the time frames you provided.

    Your predictions of the future, like many other predictions about technology, is simply a fools game. There are just too many variables.

  • January 3, 2014 at 7:13 am
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    I really hope Cuba not to allow foreigners to buy antique cars from Cuba.

  • January 2, 2014 at 12:55 pm
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    If you look up the meaning of the word proletariat, you’ll see that it means the workers .
    In common terms it means the general public, the common people, the vast majority of any of given society .
    Just because Marx used the term dictatorship, it does not mean either what you claim it does nor does that one word give you the authority to redefine what socialism is and it is decidedly democratic and not totalitarian.
    Ask any college professor who teaches the basics of economics.
    What Marx meant by a dictatorship of the proletariat was and is simply majority rule which, in a word, is democracy .
    If you are saying that socialism cannot exist , you have to realize that you are also saying that democracy cannot exist.
    Again you have the right to your opinion as to the to the pros and cons of socialism but you have absolutely no right to redefine the philosophy itself.
    You are rejecting something about which you have just a little knowledge and a little knowledge is a dangerous thing in any debate.

  • January 2, 2014 at 12:45 pm
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    I.C.,
    Your reluctance to accept what I am saying about the very near future is entirely understandable.
    It is human nature to think about such things in a linear fashion rather than in the exponential or logarithmic fashion in which the associated technologies are developing.
    Moore’s Law dictates that computing power /artificial intelligence has, is and will double every 18 months.
    At present computing power is at the 12 petaflops (quadrillions of floating operations per second) that the Chinese announced they had late last year.
    If you do the math, you will see that doubling every 18 months brings that 12 petaflops to well over the 1000 petaflops at which the human brain operates .
    Two examples of how this works are:
    If you take 30 linear steps ( 1+1+1+1+1+1) out your front door, you will get just across the street.
    If you take 30 exponential steps ( 2X1X2X4X8X16X32 X64 etc. ) you’ll go around the world .
    The technologies which will bring about all those things which you doubt are developing at that exponential rate.
    The second example :
    30 years ago the most powerful computer was the size of a house , had limited computing capabilities and cost millions of dollars.
    The smart phone you probably have fits in your pocket, costs a few hundred dollars and not only has infinitely , more computing capacity than the 1980s model but takes pictures , tells you precisely where you are on the planet and connects you with the worldwide web/the entire store of human knowledge .
    With the doubling of that technology’s abilities every 18 months it is not a 1+1+1+1 process but again a 2x32X64X128 etc process so that in far less than the 30 years it took to get that house -sized computer to pocket size , computers will be nanosized ( billionths of an inch and will be augmenting every persons brain in order to be able to keep up with the coming changes .
    As for the end of capitalism, it is as sure as the sun coming up .
    How many jobs have been permanently lost through globalization; the race by all competitive manufacturers
    to cheaper labor in China and elsewhere ?
    It is not possible for an Apple or a clothing manufacturer or any other manufacturer to both stay where they are in the U.S and other high labor cost areas and successfully compete with their competitors who do.
    At the same time that globalization is taking place , automation is taking place and at the exponential pace that the associated technologies ( as explained) are developing.
    These same manufacturers MUST automate , MUST convert to non-human and infinitely more efficient and lower cost machines or go out of business much as all the factories have in the U.S. who could not compete with Chinese made goods.
    At present you might have only noticed the tip of the technological iceberg that is automation of the workplace but it is NOW at the “knee” of a graph curve that is about to go close to vertical after centuries of what WAS a long slow climb .
    I won’t go on because I know how difficult it is for most to grasp the exponential nature of the technologies and artificial intelligence but if you’d look deeply enough into Moore’s Law and wrap your head around what unfolds from that 100% sure law, you’ll be able to see the same very near future that I do.
    Take my very regular advice and Google up “when machines replace humans” and spend a few hours reading up on what is happening now and what a great many others are saying will happen .
    I ‘ve done hundreds of hours of reading and discussing this . At present I’ve loaned out my copy of “The Singularity Is Near ” to a very intelligent friend who is a chemist and also involved in high technology and he has agreed to read the big book and get back to me on where the holes are in the author’s narrative.
    I do not take that book at face value but am constantly looking for error and so far have not only found no errors but rather just corroboration of what it is predicting.
    The author made some 118 predictions based on his knowledge of the science back in the early nineties and some 92 of them were dead on and a number of others so close as to be considered correct.
    As I’ve said before , you and I will not have that long to wait until we find out if I (and others) are correct or not.

  • January 2, 2014 at 10:06 am
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    This is absolutely fascinating!!!

    You are telling us that in 15 years the following will happen:

    – Mental illness will be eliminated.
    – Crime will be eliminated
    – Domestic violence will be eliminated
    – Corporations will be dissolved and paychecks will no longer be issued.

    So you’ve found a way to eliminate the effects of human nature have you? I think you’ve watched one too many episodes of Star Trek

    ….mind you I do believe something like that may well be in humanities future, our distant future, but not 15 years.

  • January 2, 2014 at 8:50 am
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    IC,
    The good news bad news depending on your point of view is that your beloved capitalism has about 15 years left to it before it will be replaced by a democratically run economy and society.
    My personal belief is that even you totalitarian-minded people will be much happier in a democratic society with the elimination of the effects of poverty, crime , mental illness drug trade and use, domestic violence etc all of which can be laid at the door of the inequities that are intrinsic to capitalism .
    But personally, you have to ask yourself if you really believe that totalitarian forms like capitalism are what is best for humanity.
    Giiven the effects of both globalization and the exponential automation of the workplace both of which are at play and which will positively and absolutely eliminate just about all need for human labor by the 2030s , how do you think capitalism can survive an unemployment rate of even 50% much less the 90+% that the 2030s will bring.
    With no paychecks there will be no buying of what you or any other business people have to sell and the government is capable of supporting only so many millions of unemployed for any length of time.
    At this point you can put on your blinders and deny that this is what will happen but I would ask that you Google up ” when machines replace humans” or the “technological future of labor” or anything similar and read what those knowledgeable have to say about this near future.

  • January 2, 2014 at 8:38 am
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    Raul Castro may or may not confirm that he does not practice socialism or communism . As with all the other governments run by a Leninist Communist Party , it serves the Cuban government’s purposes y to have the population believe that the Cuban system is either socialist/communist or working toward those democratic economies/societies.
    You doubtless are unaware that I am an anarchist and my socio-political beliefs are grounded and founded upon direct democracy .
    I doubt that you understand w either what classic anarchists believe or what democracy is for that matter given the nature of what you post.
    To be brief and to help you get a start into understanding anarchists please understand this:
    All anarchists believe that any government long enough in power becomes self-preserving, corrupt and finally totalitarian and for this reason we anarchists oppose all formal governments .
    Our belief is in direct bottom-up democracy in the running of a society.
    I do not believe that either Raul now nor Fidel in his time would disagree with me as regards the necessity for a democratic society but I do believe that they would argue that given the ongoing attempt of the U.S to overthrow the revolution , it is not possible to have the admittedly difficult processes of a direct democracy put in effect during an ongoing existential threat in which sudden hostilities must be met with instantaneous reaction by an in-place seated government.
    That said, the anarchist belief as explained above dictates that no leaders who have held power for a long time can be trusted.
    We will all know if Raul and the Cuban government as presently constituted will go back to the principles and methods of Poder Popular once U.S hostilities end and at that time either praise or criticize that government for what it does freed from that existential threat.
    And a Happy New Year to you as well.

  • January 2, 2014 at 4:31 am
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    Why don’t you go and tell that to Raul Castro’s face? Mr Blusterer. Happy New Year. :p

  • January 1, 2014 at 8:48 pm
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    You’re right. There is no need to redefine anything. We take it right from the proverbial horses arse. Karl Marx originally conceived the idea of “dictatorship of the proletariat”. your fantasy socialism does not and can not exist.

    When I go to my office tomorrow I don’t think I’ll be turning it over to my employees, dispute my great esteem for them. Although they are fee to leave and even start their own business if they wish

  • January 1, 2014 at 8:24 pm
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    His brand of socialism has never existed because its unworkable! it inevitably becomes totalitarian. But what do you want from someone who believes the “nuclear family” to be a repressive system

  • January 1, 2014 at 5:50 pm
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    The fact that you choose to define socialism and communism as those state run forms that have existed simply points to you as an ignorant person: ignorant in the sense that you have no knowledge of what you THINK you know.
    And again , I would term your particular brand as willful ignorance because you choose to ignore what every professor, every socialist , every communist and every originator of these philosophies has defined these philosophies as being and choosing instead the definition that is the direct opposite simply because it suits your purposes.
    I’ll repeat here what I’ve posted before and which you chose to ignore.
    Noam Chomsky when asked about this same matter said ( paraphrased ) It suited the purposes of the Maos , Stalins etc to define their totalitarian regimes as socialist since socialism to their followers was/is a desirable democratic form . To have them believe that eventually they would get around to the democracy served their purposes of retaining totalitarian power . Tjis same thing is being done in Cuba.
    It was also in the interests of the ruling capitalists in the USA to have THEIR people believe ( as you do) that socialism is accurately defined as the horrors of those totalitarian regimes in order to convince them that it ( democratic economies) was something they would never want.
    While it( the GOUSA) was correct that no sane person would want a Soviet-Chinese style society , they were absolutely duplicitous liars in presenting those totalitarian regimes as the socialism and communism of any of the founders of those philosophies.
    When I tried to explain to you that the first act of Lenin and Trotsky upon assuming power in the brand new Soviet Union was the dissolution of the democratic worker’s soviets (councils) thereby ending any possibility of a democratic economy as described by all socialists and communists , you simply ignored that fact .
    And again while you are entitled to have your opinions about the evils of socialism and communism , you are in no way entitled to redefine philosophies that have existed long before these totalitarian regimes who CALL themselves communist/socialist existed .
    And again, take your thinking as to what is and what is not socialism and/or communism to ANY institution of higher learning and see what kind of reception you’ll get.
    From a recent Time Magazine:
    A brief note which told of the satirizing of “…the 50-Cent Party , the government workers who post comments to manipulate online conversation and who are thought to be paid .05 yuan (8 cents US) for each post.
    You work cheap, Moses. Who says Chinese workers can undercut American worker?

  • January 1, 2014 at 9:41 am
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    So let me get this straight. Even though Lenin, Mao, and Castro have defined their governments as Socialists, we should ignore them and believe you and a small group of other wackos who can hardly govern their own bowels let alone run murderous and totalitarian regimes. BTW, I don’t like nor listen to Rush Limbaugh. He is a wacko too. I know you have admitted that socialism as you define it has never existed on a national level. You rail against religion but aren’t you worshiping at the altar of fantasy government systems?

  • January 1, 2014 at 9:41 am
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    Wow. What’s next toilet paper? What a mess!

  • January 1, 2014 at 8:11 am
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    I’ll write this in simple easy-to-understand English for you:
    Cuba does not have a socialist economy.
    It has a state run economy.
    A socialist economy is one which is run from the bottom up in a democratic fashion by the workers .
    A state run economy such as in Cuba and the former Soviet Union is run from the top down and there is no democratic aspect to state-run economies as required in any socialist economy.
    You have the right to your opinion of socialism: democratic economy
    but you have absolutely no right to redefine what socialism is.
    That was established well over 150 years ago and I would again ask you where in academia is socialism taught as the totalitarian form you think it is ?
    Do please note that Rush Limbaugh’s ” Institution for Advanced Conservative Thinking ” ( an oxymoron) does not qualify as academia.
    Will you answer the question or ignore it because you have no effective response ?

  • December 31, 2013 at 10:32 am
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    The goal of Raul’s economic reforms are aimed at attracting hard currency. Imported new cars are taxed at 240% in accordance with the Cuban Constitution. To the extent this burgeoning middle class can spend their new wealth in Cuba, the moribund socialist economy benefits. These reforms also hope to stave off the largest outmigration of Cuba’s most productive segment of the population since the Mariel boatlift. The argument can almost be made that with even with fewer resources, a young consumer-minded Cuban can live BETTER in Havana than that same person can live in Miami. Political freedoms notwithstanding, the costs of housing, healthcare, energy, food, entertainment and transportation combined are lesser in Havana than in Miami. As a result, there are some Cubans who now will likely opt to stay in Cuba and run a business over emigrating abroad to start all over. Raul’s reforms, including the expanded permission to buy a new car, are aimed at this consumer class of Cubans who already have the choice of staying in Cuba or leaving. It is important to note that these reforms do not promote the development of the “New Man” nor do they make for a more equal society nor do they discourage the accumulation of private property. On the contrary, these reforms mirror the very aspects of capitalism that the Castros spent 45 years dismantling. Make no mistake, these reforms are aimed at maintaining the dictatorship’s status quo and buying a few more years for a regime with literally one foot in the grave already.

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