To Have or Not To Have a Car
To Have or Not To Have a Car / Fernando Damaso
Posted on October 29, 2013
In any country, the acquisition of a car, whether new or used, usually
represents a reason for the new owner’s satisfaction. In Cuba, if
acquiring a vehicle demands overcoming numerous obstacles, keeping it
functioning requires overcoming many more.
In the first place, new cars can only be gotten if the State grants the
right, generally to functionaries of political and governmental
agencies, armed forces officers, some professionals (above all from the
health sector after completing missions abroad), artists (mainly
musicians), some intellectuals and high performance athletes with
relevant results in international events. In all cases, demonstrated
loyalty to governmental ideology and politics is an indispensable requisite.
In the second place, the decree that authorizes the purchase and sale of
vehicles between citizens — something that was already done in an
illegal manner — refers only to those in use for several years. We are
talking about those that have traveled our deteriorated roads and
avenues for a long time: vehicles from the ’40s and ’50s, the first
known as “almendrones” (from the word for “almond”) mostly of American
make, some German and Italian, and the ones built in the formerly
socialist camp, largely the extinct Soviet Union and Poland. In recent
years, although in reduced quantities, vehicles from Japan, South Korea,
Germany, Brazil and lastly China have been added.
The owner of a vehicle must confront various problems, one of the most
important being the acquisition of fuel: he must pay 1.20 CUC in
convertible pesos for each liter for regular gasoline and 1.40 CUC for
higher octane. This represents, in the first case, two days’ salary in
national currency (29 Cuban pesos, or CUP), and in the second, more than
two days’ (33 CUP), based on an average monthly salary of 440 CUP.
The next problem refers to the oils and lubricants, missing in the
garages that offer scrubbing and lubricating service in national
currency, requiring the car owner to get them in CUC, at elevated
prices, in the convertible pesos garages, or in CUC or CUP at a lower
price on the black market.
Nevertheless, these problems are trifles compared to those involved in
confronting repairs and the acquisition of replacement parts, tires and
batteries. The majority of state mechanic shops disappeared, and
individuals not yet authorized, the repairs must be resolved with
private mechanics, who are able to work on state premises devoid of
equipment (by arrangement with the appropriate administrator), at his
home, at that of the car owner, using his own tools and, sometimes, even
those of the client.
The prices, as is to be expected, are arranged directly between the
mechanic and the car owner, usually being elevated, as much in CUC as in
CUP. The main replacement parts, almost always missing from the state
stores, must be gotten on the black market. Customarily, near the state
stores, the presence of the citizens equipped with cell phones that,
before any solicitation, immediately locate the searched-for piece or
In the state stores, depending on the type of vehicle, a tire may cost
between 89 and 155 CUC (five or eight months’ average salary) and a
battery between 90 and 175 CUC (the average salary of almost five to
nine months). On the black market tires can be acquired for 60-80 CUC
and batteries for 90-110.
It seems, although it may not be the intention, that the State, with its
elevated sale prices for citizens, stimulates the the existence of the
illegality, especially when all or most of these items come from the
“misappropriation of resources” and theft from the state stores and
And best not to address the issue of sheet metal and paint, because
these services, more than the cost of the materials (sheet metal,
acetylene, welder, paints, thinners, etc) reach astronomical figures, on
the order of hundreds of CUC.
The decision about having or not having a car in Cuba demands a lot of
reflection: although it resolves a problem of scarce public
transportation and represents freedom of movement, it constitutes too
heavy a burden for any pocket and the psyche of the happy (?) owner.
From Diario de Cuba.
23 October 2013
Translated by mlk
Source: “To Have or Not To Have a Car / Fernando Damaso | Translating