HAVANA (Reuters) - Cuba’s cash-strapped government on Tuesday began selling used cars for dollars at a single Havana outlet, a first for the Communist-run state and a further step toward the dollarization of a segment of its retail sector.
Around a hundred people showed up to look at the cars, representing a hodgepodge of brands and models. Around one in 20 Cubans owns a car and the cost puts them out of the reach of many citizens, in a country where the average wage is below the equivalent of $100 per month.
Yoan Orlando Milian, a 37-year-old who splits his time between Miami and Havana, said he had camped out for days to be the first in line to purchase a car.
“I will do anything for my family. And this is a good option for my wife and kids in Havana,” he said from the window of his 2011 Toyota Land Cruiser that he had bought for $80,000 - more than double the amount he might expect to pay in the United States.
Cuba first legalized in 2014 the sale and purchase of cars manufactured after the 1959 revolution, but for convertible Cuban pesos, which are officially valued at a dollar though worthless outside the country.
The state maintains a monopoly on foreign trade and retail sales.
Previously, the new and used cars were priced at more than four times the factory price. Now available for dollars through use of a bank card, the government says it will discount 10% from the former price as it opens more outlets and makes new vehicles available.
Reinier Ramos, from the central Cienfuegos province, said he had come to Havana three days earlier to stake a claim on a car.
“I want to buy a Geely at $35,000 or MG3 for $34,000,” he said, referring to two Chinese brands.
Ramos, a civil engineer, said he had sold a car and received money from family abroad for the purchase.
Cuba’s state-run economy is going through a liquidity crisis due to the implosion of ally Venezuela’s economy and the tightening of the decades-old U.S. trade embargo under President Donald Trump.
The government has opened around 80 “dollar stores” selling items such as home appliances and car parts that it has to buy abroad in tradable currencies. The state had previously sold such items for convertible pesos.
Cuban stores continue to sell food and basic household items in convertible pesos or its other currency, the local peso.
Reporting by Nelson Acosta; writing by Marc Frank; Editing by Rosalba O'Brien