Engineers, doctors and economists are leaving their professions to drive taxis. After spending years training for their professions, these cuentapropistas (entrepreneurs) are becoming drivers because they make more money in a day, behind the wheel of one of Cubas cars, driving a taxi than they did in a month working as a practiced professional.
After the overview you saw in episode one, in this episode of Startup Cuba, we take you to learn about cars in Cuba. This entrepreneurial industry in which these brilliant professionals go from earning the equivalent of sixty U.S. dollars a month to over one-hundred in a day as Cuban taxi drivers. Paid in CUC, the money also goes further as the CUC, also known as the Convertible Peso is pegged to the value of the U.S. dollar. Even students are recognizing this and sacrificing their studies as lawyers and economists to drive.
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Beyond Cuban taxi drivers, there’s also an industry to rebuild and just keep the cars in Cuba on the road. And the mechanics behind these vehicles are masters at their craft. You’ll open the hood of a ’57 Chevy and the engine is a mixture of Honda, Mercedes and Kia parts from different decades. When parts aren’t available, they create them. They invent them. No matter what, these cars run and in Cuba a car is never totaled.
Buying a car in Cuba is, as you can expect, quite complicated. The main car dealer in Cuba… it’s the government. We checked out an automobile lot and noticed that a used Kia can be purchased for the equivalent of over fifty-thousand U.S. dollars. With an average state salary of twenty-five dollars a month, well, you get it.
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There is a black market to buy an old car in Cuba, just like there is for everything else in Cuba. In this case, we gave it a try using Cuba’s version of Craigslist called, Revolico. Technically the site is not legal in Cuba but it is well respected and “permitted.” We found a five year old Kia with 130,000 kilometers (80,000 miles) on the odometer selling for 55,000 CUC.
The car we eventually found and saw in person had no odometer but the owner anticipated that his 1999 Fiat, he was selling for 35,000 CUC, possibly had 400,000 kilometers on it.
Cover photo: Jonah Elkowitz