Cuba downplays foreign new car sales restrictions image

According to state media, for the first time since the 1959 revolution, Raul Castro’s Cuba will let citizens buy new cars from foreign automakers.

Until new regulations in 2011, people could only sell cars built before the 1959 revolution. Now, Cubans will also no longer need government permits to buy modern cars from state sellers. Private property has been severely restricted on the Communist-run island since 1959. The changes are part of a shake-up of Cuba’s struggling economy.

The Communist Party newspaper, Granma, said the Council of Ministers approved new regulations on Wednesday that “eliminate existing mechanisms of approval for the purchase of motor vehicles from the state”. Priority for the permits was given to people “in positions of benefit to the government”, such as doctors and diplomats.

As a result, the paper said, “the retail sale of new and used motorcycles, cars, vans, small trucks and mini buses for Cubans and foreign residents, companies and diplomats is freed up”. People who already have permits are expected to be given priority, however. And buyers will still need to purchase vehicles through state retailers.

Cubans and foreigners will not be able to import their own cars. The new regulations will be published in the official Gazette in the coming days and become law 30 days later. The move is part of a series of reforms driven by President Raul Castro aimed at updating the Cuban economic model. He has championed limited free-market reforms since taking the reins of power from his brother Fidel in 2008.