Now that the Cuban government has discovered the old Marxist-Leninist principle of allowing the masses to buy and sell property
-- each according to his need, which is interpreted to mean one
socialist property in the city and a vacation home in the country -- the
innovators may be open to other capitalistic ideas.
With a house in the country, for example, the masses now may need
cars in their driveways and carports. Until recently, car ownership in
Cuba was just for the privileged -- artists, athletes, and doctors who
have worked abroad. But that's changed now.
What an opportunity for Detroit to sell cars.
The epiphany came to me as I drove down automobile row on Route 46 in
Lodi, N.J., past dealer lots filled with new and previously used/good
as new/late year models. Despite the uptick in sales (and we Americans
are buying cars as fast as we can), there still seems to be some left
I began thinking about a plan to fill the void and benefit both our
countries -- what I call the Cuban Carlift -- on a recent visit to Cuba.
The streets of Havana and the environs, I noticed, were filled with
clunkers. A "new car" was from the 1950s. It was a surreal experience
climbing into a 1936 DeSoto cab. I expected to see George Raft jumping
on a running board with his Tommy gun.
This said two things to me. On the one hand, they made very good cars
in the old days, before Detroit introduced "planned obsolescence" --
the concept in which cars were made to wear out just in time for you to
buy a new one. On the other hand, the scarcity might mean there is a
market for new cars that hasn't been tapped since the embargo of 1957.
As quaint as the Dodges, Packards, Hudsons, Plymouths, and Chevrolet
Impalas and Bel Airs of the 1950s and 1960s might be, it occurs to me
that Cuban people are likely to be induced to trade in their clunkers
for something a little more current. Getting these old cars off the road
-- Cuba has the most clunkers per capita in the industrialized world --
would help the environment, as well as being a shot in the arm for
There are an estimated 60,000 pre-1960 American cars hiccupping their way around Cuba, the New York Times reported in 2004. That these Chacarros,
as they are called, are still running, even with Czech engines under a
Buick hood or a Russian carburetor with a DeSoto chassis, is a credit to
the Cuban people's ingenuity.
"These cars are a part of our national identity now, like rice and beans, or roast pork," mechanic Jorge Prats told NPR this past spring. "We take care of these old American cars as if they were another member of the family."
What a bonanza it would have been if Pep Boys or AutoZone had the freedom to open chains.
There is a myth that Cubans love old American cars. Without
scientific market research, I predict they will love new American cars
even more, especially those less than 45 years old.
All we need to do is show the people our current TV commercials, with
their seductive songs about incredible Event of a Lifetime sales on
cars covered by the best warranties in the business. These are sales
messages that could resonate in Cuba today.
No dinero? No problemo. The car companies are offering 0% APR
for 60 months, plus no down payment until next year. As much as those
Cubans love socialism, offering them the same kind of deal as Americans
would make cars sell like enchiladas. From each according to his need,
to each according to his inability to pay. Viva socialismo americano.
And the US could guarantee the auto loans as part of its stimulus
program to create jobs, jobs, jobs. Any undue losses incurred by liberal
financial terms could be included in the CIA secret budget.
Allowing cars to be sent to Cuba, while supplies last, not only will
reduce global warming, but also will be a humanitarian and public health
issue, as anyone who has seen the notorious camelback busses in Cuban
cities can attest.
But could all this be done? Remember the embargo? Here is where President Obama's old "Yes We Can" mojo kicks in belatedly.
As stupid as the embargo might seem, it remains a pillar of American
foreign policy. My Cuban Carlift plan bypasses the embargo by
introducing a semi-embargo. I would start in a small way, by airlifting
in only GM cars and trucks, built with American taxpayer money.
Sure, they don't make cars in Detroit, Flint, and Ypsilanti like they used to. Let the Fidelistas find that out for themselves down the road. Caveat emptor.
Now here's the kicker in the plan. First, we send them the Hummers
and old Geos nobody wants to buy. Then we send in the repo people to
repossess the cars when their owners can't keep up the payments next
year. Forget the Bay of Pigs. Our repo men can be the invasion force
that finally makes Cuba Libre.
It's time the Obama administration woke up, smelled the MTBE (the
oxygenated toxic by-product once added to our fuel to reduce emissions),
and brought our enemies to their knees.