HAVANA, CUBA (CNN) — For more than half a century, Cubans have kept old American-made cars in running condition.
Now Havana has relaxed restrictions on the import of autos from the u-s and elsewhere.
For the first time since the revolution, Cubans can now buy cars, from the state, without special government authorizations and endless bureaucracy.
They just need cash, lots of it.
"It's too expensive. I don't know why they did this, the state is supposed to protect workers."
Expensive is an understatement. At this lot, the government sells used cars. Many are beaten down rentals that have already been driven tens of thousands of miles.
But the cars sell for more, much more, than brand new models outside of Cuba.
$90,000 is the price tag for a four-year-old used jeep; and don't bother trying to haggle.
That’s a bargain, however, compared to prices at this dealership for new cars where a sedan sells for $262,000.
There were no customers when we visited. Not surprising, in a country where the average salary is only about $20 a month and few can afford to buy a Peugeot for the price of a Ferrari.
The Cuban government says part of the revenue generated from the wallet gouging car sales will go to fix the country's faltering transportation.
"Who doesn't need a car? I work 25-26 kilometers from where I live. A car is a necessity, not a luxury. It's not easy getting to work."
Cars are so scarce here, that classic American automobiles from the 1950s are still one of the most reliable forms of transportation.
A reminder of how after the Cuban revolution, getting a new car required special permission and status.
"For years buying a new car in Cuba meant navigating a labyrinth of bureaucratic red tape. First you needed to prove to the government how you were able to afford a car. Next you needed to obtain a letter from the government authorizing you to buy a car, how much you could spend on it and your number on the long waiting list. Even with the authorization letter it still could be years before you had a car."
Those authorization letters, which were typically only given to Cuban doctors, athletes and other government employees who worked for years abroad-are now worthless.
"These are people who left to make sacrifices and give prestige to this country. Why are they going to do that now?"
Cuban state media has had little to say about the backlash to the car sales.
But according to the island's rumor mill they will soon be suspended and prices lowered.
But a hand-made sign posted by employees of a Havana car lot disputed that speculation, saying, despite rising anger, the sales will go on.