icon bookmark-bicon bookmarkicon cameraicon checkicon chevron downicon chevron lefticon chevron righticon chevron upicon closeicon v-compressicon downloadicon editicon v-expandicon fbicon fileicon filtericon flag ruicon full chevron downicon full chevron lefticon full chevron righticon full chevron upicon gpicon insicon mailicon moveicon-musicicon mutedicon nomutedicon okicon v-pauseicon v-playicon searchicon shareicon sign inicon sign upicon stepbackicon stepforicon swipe downicon tagicon tagsicon tgicon trashicon twicon vkicon yticon wticon fm

Adios to Cuban car culture?

The streets in Cuba are filled with ageing classic cars, but now that aspect of the island's unique charm could be under threat.

It's a small country which for a long time has resisted influence from much of the outside world. One place in Cuba where that's especially apparent is on its roads.

Once a friendly port for American sailors, it’s now illegal for U.S. tourists to visit. Things could change in 2009, bringing some fresh traffic to the Caribbean island. For now, some old American cars remain the only reminder of once smooth relations. Preserved in time, they have become a hallmark of Cuba. Due to the trade embargo with the U.S., Cuban drivers can't get original parts for those cars.

If you take a stroll in Havana today you’ll see it’s the Russian-made means of transport that overruns the country. Leftover from decades of soviet sponsorship, they embody Cuban’s innovative way of getting by.

Cubans are masters of managing with what they’ve got. There you can find an American-made Ford running on a Japanese engine, Chinese wheels and with parts from three Russian cars – a Lada, a Moskvich and a Volga. Made in 1937, it keeps going, while anywhere else in the world it would have been put in a museum.

2008 has already seen a shift in gear. Fidel Castro handed the country’s reigns over to his reform-oriented brother Raul, and both have shown willingness to repair relations with the U.S. The newly elected President Barack Obama vowed to close down Guantanamo prison and ease travel restrictions.

Many fear opening to the U.S. would mean losing the legendary classic cars from the island, replacing it with modern Americana. Spain, however, and, of course, Russia, insist on only minor tuning to the Cuban way.

“I hope Cuba won't be damaged by capitalism. Look around and you see Cubans are poor, but they are happy. I hope they will keep their charm once they open up,” a Russian tourist said.

Just like Cubans say that the first Russian cars were better than the new ones, Russia hopes the Cubans like their old wheels better than the new ones.

Dear readers and commenters,

We have implemented a new engine for our comment section. We hope the transition goes smoothly for all of you. Unfortunately, the comments made before the change have been lost due to a technical problem. We are working on restoring them, and hoping to see you fill up the comment section with new ones. You should still be able to log in to comment using your social-media profiles, but if you signed up under an RT profile before, you are invited to create a new profile with the new commenting system.

Sorry for the inconvenience, and looking forward to your future comments,

RT Team.