THE BLOG
12/20/2013 09:13 am ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Cuba Changes the Rules for Car Buying: The Emerging Middle Class Wins, the Political Faithful Lose


Photo by Silvia Corbelle

The morning's news left Raidel speechless. Just when he was going to buy a car at a subsidized price, they announced the end of this mechanism of privileges.

Just to get the authorization letter, with signatures and stamps, had been the work of long months trekking from one office to another, one bureaucrat to another. The hardest thing was to demonstrate that his income came from the State sector, proving the origin of every penny earned from decorating tourist resorts. With permission already granted, he had endured four years on a waiting list of over seven thousand potential buyers. Until this morning, when his dreams of going to pick out a low cost Peugeot or Hyundai went up in smoke in the time it took to read a brief announcement on TV.

Recently, the Council of Ministers agreed to gradually implement the sale of modern cars -- new or used -- to any natural person, whether Cuban or foreign. Two years after the implementation of Decree 292, reality has forced them to widen the strict limits of this regulation. To the legalization or vehicle sales between individuals, they have now added the acquisition from agencies of cars with zero miles, or with more recent model years. We are going from permission only to trade in second hand products, to being able to obtain a "new package" with certain technical warranties... but yes, from State retail networks, at a price determined by the government and probably paying in cash.

A measure of this kind benefits the emerging middle class, eager to own ever more modern status symbols. As an immediate effect, it increases the social differences that have been growing dramatically in the last five years. Although the political discourse continues to speak of equality and opportunities for all, this relaxation is directed at those who have high incomes in convertible pesos. They are the big winners of the day, while the losers are Cubans like Raidel, whose authorization letter to buy a car barely has value as a museum piece. People who after years of applauding, faking and working hard, understand that today the market as been imposed over their professional and political merits.