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

  • 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..

  • 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%.

  • 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.

  • 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.

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