Spare parts: Russia war sanctions hurt Cuba’s Lada drivers – Al Jazeera English
Francisco Pérez Rodríguez has a car problem — one that is starting to be all too common for many Cubans.
He’s been rebuilding the engine of his father-in-law’s Moskvich — one of tens of thousands of cars and other vehicles that poured into Cuba from its Cold War allies in the Soviet bloc and later Russia during the past half-century.
To run, it needs a new timing belt. But Pérez Rodríguez said that is something only available these days in Russia. And flights there have been disrupted by Western sanctions imposed after Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.
Global restrictions on transport and trade with Russia pose an especially serious problem for Cubans, whose socialist government has lived since the early 1960s under an embargo imposed by the nearby United States. Much of the island’s fleets of trucks, buses, cars and tractors came from distant Russia and are now aging, in need of parts.
And much like Russian tourists, those parts are no longer arriving.
Transportation in Cuba can be difficult in the best of times. Buses have often been in short supply, cargo trucks are sometimes pressed into service for rural passengers and the streets are filled with Russian-made Ladas, Niva SUVs and Jeep-like Uazs.
Even many of the legendary 1950s-vintage American cars that roll along Havana’s waterfront have been modified over the years to use Russian engines and other parts.
Cuban statistics indicate the island has about 20,000 old American cars and 80,000 to 100,000 Ladas.
“For the Ladas, everything is brought from Russia. Many people are going to be affected,” said Pérez Rodríguez, 57, who operates a lathe workshop in Artemisa, just southeast of Havana.
A vintage Russian-made Lada car, right, and an American-made classic car drive past the Capitol in Havana, Cuba [Ramon Espinosa/AP Photo]
Along with disruption of the key tourism industry and financial transactions with Russia, “the interruption of transportation is going to be a problem for Cuba in terms of spare parts,” said William LeoGrande, an expert on Cuba at the American University in Washington, DC.
“This just makes life even harder, even if they find ways to work around these sanctions on Russia,” he said. “It is going to be more expensive; it is going to be more time consuming, and it is just going to make their economic situation worse.”
Cuba’s economy already has been slammed by tightened US sanctions under the Trump administration and by the coronavirus pandemic.
Manuel Taboada, a 26-year-old taxi driver in Old Havana, was already worried about his own Lada.
“Now, with the mess of the war, with everything that is happening, it will have a big effect because they can’t travel and they can’t bring things in,” Taboada said. “Honestly, we don’t know how we are going to end up because there are specific parts for this car.”
A vintage Russian-made Lada car passes the Russian Our Lady of Kazan Orthodox Cathedral in Havana, Cuba [Ramon Espinosa/AP Photo]
The exact scale of the problem is difficult to measure because much of the trade in parts occur in the informal market — exchanges between individuals, said Pavel Vidal Alejandro, an economics professor at the Pontifical Javeriana University in Cali, Colombia. “The Cubans have a lot of restrictions on travel without a visa to other countries, and Russia is one of the exceptions.”