14ymedio, Marcelo Hernandez, Havana, 25 February 25, 2020 — At first light you could see the tired yawning faces of the people who had come to form a queue. The start of the sale of used cars for foreign currency has attracted more curious people than purchasers to the shop on 20th Street, between 1st and 3rd, in the Playa district of Havana.
The first person in the line, waiting for them to call the next customers, commented, “I thought I had come early, but at 5 am there were more than ten people, who, I imagine, turned up last night”. The person behind him was sure that “the best deals will go in the first days, and that’s why people are impatient.”
The wide lot where the cars are parked has a reception area with AC, where there is a list with the prices of each vehicle. What doesn’t appear is the year, or the mileage, or kilometrage, of the car. “If you want to know those details, you have to stand in line and go through the process”, says an employee, through a gap in the door.
The independent and foreign press have also come. Lights, cameras … and cars everywhere. Some mock the excessive coverage. “This wouldn’t be news anywhere else but Cuba”, laughs a passer-by taking his kid to school.
In order to get in, you have to show a credit card charged with real convertible currency. Someone asks if it is also necessary to have a minimum amount on the card, and this leads to some confusion and some consultation. A few minutes later, a man confirms that “If you really want to buy something, you obviously have to have money, but for the assistants, just having some plastic is enough”.
There is an automobile-expertise competition among the onlookers, who observe from far away, and then up close. “None of those cars look more than ten years old; the problem is knowing what their mileage is”, says one of the supposed experts. Another one adds, “And it would be difficult to know because you can clock the mileage and leave it at zero”.
Nearly all the cars are grey. There are small ones, and ones which are more like pick-ups or minivans. Some are covered in dust, and none of them have licence plates.
Some point to the cheapest models, going for about $34,000, and say they will probably will go quickest, while others consider that it is “better to pay more and get a stronger car”. Nearly everyone in the line are men, although there are some women accompanied by their husbands, and a woman shouting about the trinkets she is selling.
“When they advertised it, I thought it would be for people who import directly”, says a young man who, he makes clear, has come “just to look”. His brother, who lives in Miami, has had a car for five years and wanted to send it, but he says that “there’s no way to get it here.”
Vehicle imports are controlled by state businesses, in particular, the Cimex Corporation, a commercial arm of the military. “That’s why the prices are like that, because they control the whole situation”, is the opinion of one of the customers, summing up the conversation about the advantages and disadvantages of each car.
Most of the people waiting there seem to belong to what most people call “nouveau riche”, or “flashy”. They show off their social status in their clothes, the kind of shoes they wear, they way they show off their knowledge of cars, and, make it clear they do have a credit card with thousands of dollars deposited, in a country in which the average monthly salary is no more that $50.
Halfway through the morning, not one buyer has left with his car. The process of inspection, testing and delivery is long and tedious. “You have to check it out, right down to the spark plugs, because when you leave there’s no way to complain about anything” says a man who boasts about being an auto mechanic, and who is accompanying a friend interested in Peugeots.
Although Chinese Geely cars are cheaper, some people reject them because of their bad reputation, since they have been distributed for years at subsidised prices to the military, and Party bureaucrats and leaders, as well as the police and members of State Security.
Carlos, a young man who has been in the line since about four in the morning, explains it perfectly. “I think I’m gonna go for a Kia for $40,000; although a Geely goes for $5,000 less, it’s a car that gives you a headache to get it fixed, and also my neighbours would think I was with the state security”, he says ironically.
Translated by GH
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