Without ‘Frankensteins’ There Would be no Transport in Guantanamo’

Authorities in Guantanamo will legalize vehicles that have been converted into taxi vans. (Ricardo Romero)

14ymedio bigger14ymedio, Lorey Saman, Mexico, September 14, 2020 — A piece from here, a piece from there. Parts of an old Chevrolet are combined with those from a Soviet-era Lada and some accessory from a more recent Citroen to fashion a vehicle that can cruise the streets instead of lying “in eternal rest” at some repair shop. In Guantanamo more than four-hundred of these hybrids are what keep the city running.

So far this year, city officials have discovered hundreds of vehicles made from pieces of other cars. According to investigations carried out by public transportation officials and reports in the local newspaper, Venceremos, residents have been using these parts to craft one-of-a-kind motorized bicycles, tricycles, vans, motorcycles — with and without sidecars — and even buses.

Details of this “resurrection,” as it is described in official parlance, come as no surprise to anyone living in a country where getting around requires inventiveness. Who here has not climbed aboard a hybrid vehicle? What Cuban does not have a friend or know someone’s father who buys parts from different vehicles to fashion his own form of transportation.

A Lada gearbox, a Fiat steering system, a Cadillac body, a Polski steering column, a Ford engine and a Moskovich suspension are just some of the components in the mechanical Frankensteins that keep the island running. The problem is these vehicles are often illegal and subject to heavy fines.

Though cars made from multiple parts have been used as a means of transportation for decades, and were essential during the so-called Special Period of the 1990s, officials have never liked them.

A new wave of regulations requires that certain vehicles be registered with the provincial transport agency. Highest on the priority list are those which have been converted from gasoline to diesel, and vice versa, as well as cars converted into passenger vans. Though there has been some regulatory relaxation, vehicular mutants made from different automobiles remain in the crosshairs of local officials.

A new law was adopted in 2019 regulating the conversion of motor vehicles, trailers and semi-trailers. It stipulated, however, that  “conversions must first be approved by local transportation authorities [after which] owners have one year to make the changes, a period which can be extended another six months.”

“Making certain changes requires a technical report which must be later reviewed and approved by the appropriate authorities. Once the changes have been made, the vehicle must undergo a technical inspection (a CT scan),” according to an article in the official press.

Most of the Frankensteins cannot meet these requirements, therefore the only option is to operate under the radar and risk fines and confiscation.

Guantanamo residents have decided to ignore these regulations. When faced with a choice between legalization or transportation, they choose the latter. A striking Willys jeep stopping to pick up passengers could be made up of parts from any number of other vehicles. Assembled with creativity and daring, there is a whiff of necessity about them. They have been brought to life by the lightning bolt of urgency.


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