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Cuba with Eddie Fisher


HAVANA: Until a few weeks ago, Erik Gonzalez’s decrepit car did little more than devour his tiny income. He spent hundreds of dollars fixing the car, a 30-year-old Moskvich that his grandfather passed down to him in 2000. Even when it worked, Mr Gonzalez could rarely afford to buy petrol.

Then, overnight, the rattletrap became his nest egg.

Mr Gonzalez put the Soviet-brand car up for sale last month when the government published rules allowing Cubans to buy and sell used vehicles freely for the first time in half a century.

The carburettor shot, the battery on its last legs and the headlights inoperable, but he believes his blue Moskvich will fetch at least $US5500, a small killing for a waiter whose salary - before tips and extras - is just $US15 a month.

Like the new law permitting home sales, which comes into effect this week, the changes headline efforts by the President, Raul Castro, to remodel Cuba’s hobbled economy and spur the private sector.

After decades in which ownership of such big-ticket items was frozen, the efforts promise to flush money into the market at a time when officials are trying to stimulate private enterprise and move hundreds of thousands of workers off the public payroll.

Like several of Mr Castro’s changes, the new law created a pocket of economic liberty in a market that remains tightly controlled. Cubans can purchase and own more than one used vehicle, and they will no longer lose their car if they emigrate.

Emilio Morales, president of Miami’s Havana Consulting Group, said the new rules - like earlier decisions to let Cubans own mobile phones and computers and work in the private sector - simply legalised what many of them were already doing illicitly and would neither increase Cuba’s antiquated stock of vehicles nor alleviate the country’s crushing transport problem. The move was intended to placate people, not stimulate the economy, Mr Morales said.

”This is one of their political pressure valves,” he said.

He would spend the proceeds on building a new kitchen and fixing his house in a gritty Havana suburb, and then put some of the money aside for a restaurant he hoped to open with a group of friends.

”If the restaurant is successful, maybe in two or three years I could buy myself a new car,” he said. ”Just not a Moskvich.”

The New York Times