• Aug 5, 2009
As you're probably aware, we've imposed some pretty heavy trade embargoes against Cuba since just after Fidel Castro deposed Fulgencio Batista, and we've encouraged our friends to do likewise. As a result, there's a dearth of post-1960 cars running around the island nation. Pistonheads have long viewed Cuba with some interest, figuring that once Fidel and his brother Raul go bye-bye, the now closed, Communist nation will open its doors and sell some of all of the 1950s "Yank Tanks" that have been so meticulously maintained in a rust free environment for so long. Remember that before the revolucion, Cuba was the biggest importer of automobiles in all of Latin America.

However, like much about Cuba, the notion of pristine 1957 Chevrolet Bel Airs not only lining the streets of Havana but being ripe for the picking is more fantasy than reality. National Public Radio's Jason Beaubien recently traveled to Cuba (reporters are generally not as not bound by travel restrictions) to catch Raul Castro's July 26 speech commemorating the failed attack on the Moncada Barracks in 1953. Beaubien's plan was to fly into Havana, then simply catch a flight or a train east to the Holguin province, home of the Castro brothers. Only trouble was, no hay flights, no hay trains. Eventually, Beaubien arranged to rent a Samsung sedan with the trunk taped shut for $100/day and just drive across the Autopista Nacional, Cuba's main highway.

Along the way, Beaubien discovers roads so empty that farmers use them to dry crops. He's also shocked at the $4 a gallon gasoline. Not horrible by our standards, but absolutely insane in a nation where the official salary is $20 per month. They also meet a man who, "dreams of emigrating to the Dominican Republic where he's heard he could earn 70 U.S. cents an hour." All the while, the road is blanketed by signs reading, "Continuaa Su Obra." Literally, "Continue Your Work." Definitely worth a read or listen.

[Source: National Public Radio | Image: Jason Beaubien/NPR]



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  • 24 Comments
      • 5 Years Ago
      I am Canadian and have travelled to Cuba many times on vacation (I felt safer there than Mexico, incidentally) and there are many (new) JDM and European cars there that we don't even see in North America. This image of only ancient american cars held together with duct tape is false and has been romanticized by the U.S. press. Incidentally, I'll give it a week after Castro's death that the U.S. invades and turns it all into a golf course.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Well, we would invade Canada, but with such a short golfing season, why bother. [insert rolleyes emoticon here]
        • 5 Years Ago
        "Incidentally, I'll give it a week after Castro's death that the U.S. invades and turns it all into a golf course."


        ROFLMAO
      • 5 Years Ago
      Cuba is hardly a closed country. If you want closed, try Saudi Arabia.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Many countries trade with Cuba. The lack of modern cars in Cuba is a result of Castro's restrictions on private property rights, and his socialist policies. This is a great lesson for the USA in these days of massive government spending. At some point, socialism fails because the government runs out of people to tax.

      In fact, most of the realities of life in Cuba that you cite, are the consequences of the choices that the government there has made, for better or for worse.



        • 5 Years Ago
        There are two aspects to my comment: (1) Jonny Lieberman's non-sequitor which asserts that US policy is the cause of economic hardship in Cuba and (2) the problems associated with socialism.

        Here is Lieberman's non-sequitor: "As you're probably aware, we've imposed some pretty heavy trade embargoes against Cuba since just after Fidel Castro deposed Fulgencio Batista, and we've encouraged our friends to do likewise. As a result, there's a dearth of post-1960 cars running around the island nation."

        This is utterly false. The dearth of post-1960 cars in Cuba is not a result of US policy. So, Mr. Lieberman, please update your post as you would any other error of fact.

        Regarding socialism, I make a clear distinction between Socialism, which is the elimination of private property (e.g., Cuba) and socialistic practices such as government schooling. Socialism rests on a Marxist-Leninist base, while the US form of government rests on a reformed base which asserts that government is by consent of the people.

        The risk with our current administration, is that many of its members are Democratic-Socialists, who seek to establish Socialism in the US via peaceful means. But, Socialism has never been established via peaceful means, and it is always sustained via oppression from a totalitarian, authoritarian government.

        I am the son of a Cuban immigrant, and have experienced the repressive policies of the Cuban government first hand. I would encourage anyone who feels that even more socialism (we are imposing taxes on our grand-children to pay for our current needs) is OK to spend some time in a Socialist country such as Cuba.

        But, what about progressive socialism as practiced in countries such as France? Well, time will tell, but isn't it a problem when the best jobs in France and the UK (e.g., salary, benefits, pension) are now found predominantly in the public sector rather than the private sector? France has had its share of revolutions precisely because they abandoned the lessons of the reformation. I wouldn't be surprised if there is one more in the near future. In other words, at some point, private sector workers are going to shrink to the point where the public sector can no longer be sustained, or they will revolt. This is always what happens with Socialism, because, at some point, you run out of people to tax.
        • 5 Years Ago
        To keep this on topic, I still ask that the original post be revised to correct the statement that asserts that the US is responsible for the current economic conditions in Cuba.

        My intent wasn't to kick off a debate regarding the US vs Europe.

        Anyway, Matthew asked "do you really think America is socializing in a more Marxist trend than Europe?"

        That's a hard question to answer. I think that there are growing elements of fascism in the US (in both of the major political parties) and as a result, complex issues are not being debated and discussed. Corruption in US government is a very serious issue as well, starting with the influence that lobbyists have. For whatever reason, there are significant numbers of Marxist professors in US universities and public schools, and so Marxism, as a belief system, is a force to contend with.

        Public sector employment in Sweden, France, and the Netherlands, is around 25%, which is significantly higher than in other countries. Whether or not these jobs are appealing or fulfilling is not the issue. At some point, the public sector gets too big for the private sector to support. Of course, like in Cuba, it helps the government's cause to control K-12 education so that people don't know all the history or how to think critically about this topic.

        • 5 Years Ago
        I felt like I'm reading the POLI-BLOG what is this 1955 again?

        Socialism is dead, in Cuba it's just a tourist attraction, sadly for the Cubans.

        I say a fair dictator makes the best democracy...
        • 5 Years Ago
        Funny how some ppl behave like switches when it comes to economic realities : when it's not liberalism in its purest form (or ultra-liberalism), then it's no less than "socialism" (understand "socialism" in its Cuba/soviet-style form, not in its inoffensive European/Scandinavian form - btw socialist by US standards only). Some people apply the same principles with religious texts in some parts of the world : if you don't apply the rules to the letter, you're an heretic who deserve various types of punishments.

        It's a bit like telling someone not to eat chanterelles because fly agarics are toxic and both are mushrooms.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Right on, Lucas. Most Americans barely understand their own political system much less the concept of socialism. They just know it's bad, as they have been programmed by the right to equate it to one step behind communism.

        Like any good concept, it can be corrupted when applied in extreme or by unscrupulous people with ulterior means, much like capitalism has in its recent excesses in the US. The massive fraud committed by the banking elite that has raped the middle and lower classes and almost toppled our economy shows how it can all go wrong with too much freedom and not enough accountability.

        Some of the most successful and prosperous nations on earth, with the highest personal happiness and health indexes are villified as socialist by the neo-cons. Turns out a little socialism mixed in with a little capitalism works very well.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Uh, as far as the "Socialism Scale" goes, I kinda think a bailout and a health care plan aren't exactly nation-wide communism...
        • 5 Years Ago
        Everything's a spectrum really, since no well-off modern country can really survive without capitalism or some sort of socialist support system. All the extremes suck, which is why the UK has healthcare and the dole, and even the US has medicaid, medicare, unemployment, and welfare although more decentralized. And obviously even the most "communist" of nations like Russia and China have big capitalist businesses churning along or everyone would be starving to death.
        The state providing some sort of social safety net so you don't fall too low isn't really a bad thing, it's only bad when people abuse the safety net or don't bother to try and get back up.
        • 5 Years Ago
        David, it's better with explanations, but do you really think America is socializing in a more Marxist trend than Europe?

        By the way, it's not true that working in the public sector is perceived as more appealing, in absolute terms, than the private sector in countries like France. Wages are often much lower in the public sector, and there is no such thing as "career opportunities". In times of recession, it's true that job security makes many graduates want to become civil servants, but when the future becomes brighter it's very difficult to get into the private sector since you're often perceived as either being lazy or lacking ambition (when it's not both).

        The interesting thing is that France is #3 in the world when it comes to direct foreign investment, behind the US and the UK ($1,234bil vs $2,220bil for the US in 2008 according to the CIA World Factbook, and France is 1/5th the population of the US). This despite strikes, taxation, 1st-world wages, etc.

        As a European I've no problem with Americans want the USA to keep less socialized than Europe. It's up to them, not our business.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Cubans drive what they do beacuse of poverty, and because the Cuban government severely limits imports of all types in order to preserve hard currency. The US embargo has little to do with it.

      None of the EU countries, Japan, Korea, etc. respect the US embargo nowadays.

      Were Cubans allowed to import products freely, they could have virtually any European or Asian car they could afford.

      The hardline socialist system impoverishes the Cubans to the extent where any embargo is a moot point. Even if the US lifted the trade embargo the Cubans are too poor to buy US made automobiles, and will be so long as the communist regime maintains its stranglehold on the island.
      • 5 Years Ago
      The Cubans are very ingenuous. They are able to keep their large, old American cars running by using spit and gum (okay, not really spit but I am sure gum and some non-standard parts). Anyone who thinks that they will go to Cuba and find large amounts of old American cars in pristine condition with all of their original parts is in for a rude awakening.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Rust free environment? Do the people that think that not realize Cuba is a freaking island that gets rolled with hurricanes every year?!?!?
        • 5 Years Ago
        Sure overall the salty, humid, air is the largest factor, I probably should have said '...and get rolled by hurricanes every year'. Although the island gets flooded with nearly every hurricane or tropical storm, so the cars that get filled with water and mud a few times for 4 months out of every year is pretty detrimental (I live in Miami, so Cuba is on the news quite a bit).
        • 5 Years Ago
        You had me until you mentioned the hurricanes as the feeder for rust. I dont dispute that Cuba is a haven for rust but I assume the salty, humid, air is far worse for the cars than the annual big storms. The salt, and humid air is a chronic, daily problem, the storms are not.
      • 5 Years Ago
      Also how many of those cars have their original V6 or V8 engines left? Perhaps by now many have been retrofitted with less thirsty engines including Diesel engines.
        • 5 Years Ago
        Really? We are to believe no new cars are imported but somehow crate engines are plentiful? That makes absolutely no sense. No offense.

        Now I agree the cars remaining on the island are crap and I doubt anyone would want them in the condition they are in, but some restoration could polish some diamonds from the rough.
      • 5 Years Ago
      I recommend the Movie "Yank Tanks" if you are really interested in the classic American cars in Cuba.
      • 5 Years Ago
      According to Micheal Moore Cuba is a better place to live than the US.
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