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01/03/14 - Reuters - Cuban hopes dashed as new and used cars go on sale 

* First open car market since 1959
* State monopoly adds huge markups
* Few Cubans own cars

By Marc Frank

HAVANA, Jan 3 (Reuters) - Cubans awoke on Friday for the first time in half
a century with the right to buy new and used vehicles from the state
without special permission, but markups of 400 percent or more quickly
dashed most people's expectations.

At the state-run Peugeot dealership in Havana on Friday morning, where
prices ranged from $91,000 for a 2013 model 206 to $262,000 for a 508,
people walked away shaking their heads in disgust.

"I earn 600 Cuban pesos per month (approximately $30). That means in my
whole life I can't buy one of these. I am going to die before I can buy a
new car," Roberto Gonzales, a state driver, said, walking back to his 1950s
Plymouth.

The average monthly wage in Cuba, where four out of five of the 5
million-strong labor force work for the state, is $20.

A European diplomat quipped, "I am slightly flabbergasted. With these
prices, the old-time U.S. cars will not disappear fast from the streets."

Under a reform two years ago, Cubans can now buy and sell used cars from
each other, but until Friday had to request authorization from the
government to purchase a new vehicle or second-hand one, usually a rental
car, from state retailers.

Before September 2011, only automobiles that were in Cuba before the 1959
revolution could be freely bought and sold, which is why there are so many
1950s or older cars, most of them American-made, rumbling through Cuban
streets.

Along with Cuba's famous rolling museum of vintage U.S. cars, there are
also many Soviet-made cars, dating from the era when the Soviet Union was
the island's biggest ally and benefactor.

Newer models are largely in government hands and were sold used before
Friday at a relatively low price to select individuals, for example, Cuban
diplomats, doctors and teachers who served abroad.

Across town from the Peugeot dealership, where more than a hundred used
rent-a-cars went on sale for prices ranging as a rule from $25,000 on up,
disgust turned to anger on Friday.

"These prices show a lack of respect for all Cubans. What is here are
wrecks. I now have no hope of getting a car for my family," artist Cesar
Perez said, looking at a 2005 Renault on sale for the equivalent of $25,000
and available outside the country on the Internet for $3,000.

A teacher looked at the price list and yelled "Are there any bicycles?" as
she stomped away without giving her name.

STATE MONOPOLY

The Cuban state maintains a monopoly on the retail sale of cars. There are
650,000 autos on the island, half of them owned by the government.

The decades-old ban on importing cars and need for state permission to
purchase from the state has left nine out of 10 Cuban households without a
car or other vehicle such as a motorcycle and dependent on the decrepit
public transportation system.

The cost of new and used cars sold by Cubans to each other is similar to
those that went on sale on Friday because of limited availability.

The government said all profits would go into a special fund to upgrade
public transportation.

Diplomats, foreign businesses and select Cubans will still need government
permission to import a new or used car without the huge markup.

The liberalizing of car sales was one of more than 300 reforms put forth by
President Raul Castro, who took over for his ailing brother Fidel in 2008,
and approved in 2011 at a congress of the Communist Party, Cuba's only
legal political party.

The proposed changes put a greater emphasis on private initiative, which
had been largely stifled under Cuba's Soviet-style system, and less
government control over the sale and purchase of personal property such as
homes and cars.

"These prices will clearly be outside the purchasing capability of the vast
majority of Cubans, even with the support from relatives abroad. In
essence, they represent a luxury tax imposed by the government on the
nouveau riches of Cuba," John Kirk, one of Canada's leading academic
experts on Latin America and author of a number of books on Cuba, said by
email.

There are now tens of thousands of small private businesses in Cuba, and
thousands of farm, construction, transportation and other types of
cooperatives, all of which in theory should benefit from the opening up of
car sales.

Bert Hoffmann, a Cuba expert at the German Institute of Global and Area
Studies in Hamburg said in an email that many businesses needed vehicles,
but such high prices would make it difficult for most and cut into other
business activity, stalling their overall development.

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Original Source / Fuente Original:
http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/03/cuba-reform-cars-idUSL2N0KD0SW20140103


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