Cuba lifts all restrictions on motor vehicle sales

Acknowledging that its attempt to ease some controls on the sale of motor vehicles had led to “illegalities,” the Cuban government announced Thursday that it was lifting the last restrictions but keeping its monopoly on imports.

The Granma newspaper said key change will be an end to the requirement that Cubans buying a new vehicle must first get a hard-to-obtain letter of approval from the Transportation Ministry — a requirement that led to backhanded deals.

All controls also will be lifted on the sale of cars, trucks, vans and motorcycles, both new and old, among both Cubans and foreigners, the newspaper reported, saying the decision was reached at a Council of Ministers meeting last week.

Also freed will be the sale of gasoline and diesel motors and body panels from junk vehicles owned by the state, such as rental car and vans that have been involved in accidents.

The report on Granma, official voice of the ruling Communist Party, marked an admission that the half-measures adopted in a reform of the motor vehicle market two years ago did not work well and led to subterfuges to get around the remaining controls.

The changes “are additional steps to eliminate restrictions that with time lost their reason for being,” the newspaper reported. “With them, administrative hurdles that opened spaces for illegalities disappear.”

“The low supplies of vehicles, their restriction to a reduced group … and the existence of another market where prices are many times higher … generated nonconformity, dissatisfaction … speculation and enrichment,” it added.

All imports and the prices of new vehicles will remain up to the government, the newspaper noted. Profits will go toward improving mass transportation.

For half a century, Cubans could only freely buy and sell cars that had been imported before the 1959 revolution — the main reason why their owners took so much care to keep them running that the island won fame for its classic cars.

The state imported all new vehicles and sold them only to selected individuals — government officials and supporters, military officers and physicians, especially those who had worked abroad and been able to save up hard currencies.

Cubans nevertheless bought and sold post-1959 vehicles on the black market — if stopped by police, the driver could argue that the legal owner had loaned him the vehicle — until the reforms two years ago first allowed the sale of used post-1959 vehicles.

Immediately after the reform, tens of thousands of title transfers were recorded, according to Cuban government figures. The majority were reported to be illegal transactions made before 2011 and now being legalized.

Cuban ruler Raúl Castro has been moving away from a Soviet styled, centrally controlled economy and toward more of a market economy since he officially succeeded ailing brother Fidel in 2008.

He has laid out scores of needed “updates” but proceeded with caution, drawing complaints that while his diagnosis of Cuba’s economic problems has been correct, his remedies have been too weak and slow.

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