Cuba: Cars & Concrete Buildings

Cars are not my thing. I like them simply because they get me from A to B, but I do not have a dream car or an obsession with their history. Luckily, I have friends that fill me in on all these details and help fill that apparent void in my life.

In their opinion, something is wrong if a man can not speak "car lingo" with the guys. I simply nod my head and get my "man points" by talking cars when there is an obvious statement to be made such as, "Yes it did look nice."

Even though I do not understand cars, I still can appreciate their beauty and place in history. You can learn a lot about a country simply by looking at their cars of choice. This is a fine line between practical use and available supply.

In the case of Cuba, they have extremely limited supplies of vehicles. They have not been able to import cars from the US for decades, people do not have the income to buy cars, and it is nearly impossible to get title for a car sold without government intervention.

I will note, that an underground market does exist between sellers and buyers.

For classic car aficionados, Cuba is a must see. They are everywhere. This is the only place where it is common to stop at a red light and have classic cars on each side and behind you as far as you can see. But these cars have a slight twist.

For starters, they are packed to the brim. Every seat (and potentially laps) are full of people. This stems from the lack of public transportation and the necessity of hitch hiking to travel in the country.

When you are stopped at the light surrounded by classic cars, take a glance at the interior. It is obvious that this is not in the same condition as when it rolled out of Detroit decades ago. I might be wrong, but I do not think CD players were a standard feature of 1950's cars.

Interior door linings are a luxury. According to local legend, most are lost in road bargaining sessions for fruit or as payment for an accident. Without auto insurance, how else would you pay for damages? It makes sense.

What car is complete without a nice house to park it next to?

Here is a question. If you could not own the home you lived in because of government oppression, would you paint the outside or do basic maintenance? Most likely not. That is how many of the Cubans I talked to reached their decision. The government is their landlord. They should be the ones to fix the sagging roof or rapidly decaying exterior. Problem is that the government won't do it.

During a conversation with a Cuban friend, he tried to explain the reason for this mindset.

"If I paint the outside, then the police and government officials will notice the work that has been done. They will ask questions about where I got the money to pay for the paint. Since almost everyone is making the same amount of money, even a small amount of money spent on exterior home repairs is noticed. It takes a day to paint or do the repairs, then 12 months to explain where the money came from to do it. It is not worth it."

I had never seen things from this point of view, but it makes perfect sense. Why create more work for yourself and a reason for the government to be involved in even more aspects of your life?

Bryan Clifton

Oklahoma City, OK