The Cuban government is set to ease restrictions on automobile imports for the first time in 50 years. This is part of President Raul Castro’s plans to gradually liberalize the communist country’s economy.
The Communist Party's official newspaper, Granma, announced on Thursday that Cuba's council of ministers had agreed on Wednesday to allow cars to be imported for sale at market prices.
Until now, Cubans wishing to purchase an imported late-model car were first required to obtain special permission cards issued by the country's transport ministry. This was strictly regulated, with potential buyers required to prove that they had obtained the funds to purchase a vehicle by officially approved means, such as having worked as a doctor or artist abroad.
The Granma report conceded that this practice had created "resentment, dissatisfaction and, in not a few cases ... [were] a source of speculation and enrichment."
Although this practice is to end, those who already hold such permits are to be given priority as they seek to buy automobiles, while the program is gradually phased out.
Granma reported that details of the new regulations would be announced over the next few days. It also said the government had decided to take this step, after determining that a reform introduced two years ago, which lifted restrictions on people selling used cars, had run smoothly.
There will continue to be limitations, though, with only the government, not private businesses, authorized to sell vehicles to individuals.
The reform to the car market is just the latest small step that President Raul Castro has introduced in recent years designed to slowly introduce private enterprise to the communist country's state-controlled economy. In some cases, the government has later introduced new restrictions when unanticipated problems have cropped up.
A high number of vintage American cars that were built back in the 1950s, such as Chevrolets, Fords or Pontiacs remain in various states of repair on Cuba's roads, due largely to the country's state-controlled economy and a 50-year-old US trade embargo.
pfd/kms (AP, AFP)