The Reason Why Cuba Has So Many Vintage Cars

Strolling around the streets of Havana, Cuba, vintage cars are seemingly everywhere, seen cruising around not just the capital city but also the entire island nation. It is a staple of Cuban culture turned tourist attraction, but for the curious traveler, one might ask, why are there so many classic cars on the roads? The answer is a bit complicated, but it involves a long history of political relations between Cuba and, you guessed it, the United States.

For most of the island nation's history, it had been a colonial state occupied by larger, more expansive nations. Spain had controlled Cuba from the 16th century to the late 19th century, during which time it was a poor agricultural state, according to Nations Online. However, as Cuba began developing its sugar industry in the 1800s, the nation became more important to dominant colonial powers, which fostered resentment amongst some of the Cuban people, leading to bloody years to come.

Years of Wars

As nationalism in Cuba began growing for a number of years in the latter half of the 19th century, the Spanish government ignored the Cuban people, who were calling for more equality in regards to the criminal codes and freedom for enslaved people, and instead chose to raise taxes on the island nation and to ban reformists from having meetings, according to PBS. However, the fuse finally blew when CubanĀ sugar planter Carlos Manuel de Cespedes instigated a revolution by writing a new constitution thatĀ emancipated the enslaved, rebelled against Spanish rule, and called for the United States to annex the country in what would be known as the Ten Years' War.

By 1878, the war had ended in a failure for the revolutionaries. Hope would arrive in 1895, when the Spanish-American War led to an American victory, which resulted in the annexation of Cuba, according to Nations Online. The country then faced a series of coups and authoritarian regimes, often backed by the U.S., for the next half of the 20th century. During this time, due to a lack of their own car manufacturing industry, the Cuban government often imported American cars, according to Lonely Planet. But a new revolution was about to change these friendly relations, as the Cuban people began to have enough of not being able to govern themselves independently.

Soured Relationships

In a move to overthrow the dictator Fulgencio Batista, Fidel Castro, a young, charismatic activist with a law degree set to create a revolution on the island. Led by Castro, a military opposition to Batista's regime attempted to raid the city of Santiago de Cuba, where they were looking to seize military gear on July 26th, 1953, according to History. However, the battle ended up being a defeat for the rebels, and Castro, along with his younger brother, was imprisoned.

Eventually, due to international pressure, Batista released many political prisoners, including the Castros, who fled to Mexico, along with other Cuban exiles, who then planned their next assault on the government (via History). The rebels then sailed from Mexico to Cuba, where they were met by a military assault, and forced to retreat into the mountains. Though seemingly unsuccessful at first, the revolution would garner more support, and by the end of the 1950s, the nation was under the control of Castro and his allies, according to History.

Vintage Cars Galore!

As relationships between the United States, the West, and Cuba soured, which led to events like the Bay of Pigs Invasion and the subsequent Cuban Missile Crisis, trade embargos were placed on the United States, which heavily affected Cuba's car industry. Lacking a large manufacturing industry themselves, the Cubans relied heavily on U.S. automobiles for most of the nation's industry, but after American cars and parts were either banned or restricted from entering the country, Cuban car-owners were faced with a new dilemma of having to restore and upkeep their vehicles, according to Anywhere. Because of the embargo, vintage cars have been a staple in Cuban culture, and have been a huge part of the country's tourism industry.

Today, travelers can get rides in classic cars turned into taxis to cruise the city of Havana, according to Lonely Planet. Some British cars from Cowley and Coventry can also be seen in the small nation, which helps complete the collection of classic automobiles. A truly fascinating sight, those who love vintage vehicles should definitely try to visit the Cuban nation for a real blast from the past.