Top Gear meets the cars of Cuba
For decades, Cuba has made do with old Yank tanks. Now it’s finally opening its doors to shiny new stuff
Posted: 12 Dec 2013
But now ordinary Cubans can buy and sell cars "without prior authorisation of any authority", as Raúl Castro, Fidel's younger brother, who is now president, puts it. Arias, 36, jumped at the chance. "I used to be a chemical engineer in the Ministry of Agriculture, but I can make more money driving a car, so I borrowed the money to buy this car. I'm a taxi driver now," he says proudly.
Arias is not alone. The local vehicle registry, the Departamento Nacional del Registro de Vehiculos, records around 10,000 sales a month. That's a huge figure when you consider there are only 600,000 cars in Cuba and a microscopic percentage of the 11 million population have the cash, usually from relatives abroad, to buy cars.
The market is growing so fast that queues form outside the tumbledown offices of Cubisima, a Havana-based answer to Craigslist. "Every day, we get more people looking to buy and sell," the website's manager, Mayelin Aguilar, tells me as she keys the latest listings into her bulky Russian-built desktop computer that is so old it still runs Windows 95.
The website has logos for the most prized marques. Top of the list: Lada. "It's the best not because it's the best but because we can get spare parts for it," explains Aguilar. Scroll down, and you'll find brands that have long disappeared elsewhere. Hillman, anyone?