HAVANA (Reuters) – Wealthy Cubans will no longer be able to buy cars from luxury brands such as BMW and Mercedes-Benz after an import program that brought flashy new cars to Havana streets dominated by old U.S. and Russian vehicles was canceled.
Since April, Cubans with cars had been allowed to import vehicles to replace pre-1990 models, with the goal of cutting fuel consumption and pollution on the Caribbean island. The old models were turned over to the government, which regulates the purchase of cars and restricts who can get them.
It was not known how many vehicles had come in under the program. But shiny new cars and SUVs, some luxury makes such as BMW and Mercedes, began popping up among the 1950s American cars that still rumble through Cuba and the Ladas that came during the island's 30-year alliance with the Soviet Union.
Artists, athletes and doctors posted abroad are among those allowed to have cars and some of the few Cubans who can afford them. The only cars that can be freely bought and sold are the old U.S. models that predate the 1959 Cuban revolution.
In recent months, some Cubans had bought the old cars, which are sold for between $3,000 and $40,000, to be able to import a new car to replace them.
Last week, the Cuban government said it had halted the import program. In the online edition of the Official Gazette, the communist government said "irregularities have been observed" in the program without explaining what they were.