A look back to 2010: Cuba loves Chevrolets and GM needs sales – what’s wrong with this picture?

Posted on December 20, 2014, 12:15 am
7 mins

An ancient Jeep, probably with a transplanted Lada engine, drops passengers at Revolution Square four years ago in Havana. With Uber starting up, we finally have the same service here in Edmonton! The sign says: “51 years of struggle and victories.” Below: an old Chevrolet still in service on a Havana street, and scenes of Havana’s crumbling housing. Oh, wait! The last one’s in Detroit.

With all the excitement in Alberta these past few days, it’s been easy to forget there’s a bigger world out there and things have been happening in it. Now, it is not normal here to rerun old posts, indeed, it’s never happened before in the seven years Alberta Diary has been published. As regular readers may suspect, it’s just not that difficult for the author to churn out 1,000 words or so on the topic of the day. Still, given U.S. President Barack Obama’s decision finally after more than half a century to end the embargo of Cuba, it seemed timely to reprint this post from Dec. 24, 2010:


Charles Erwin Wilson, president of America’s largest automaker through World War II, was more than half right when he remarked, “What’s good for the country is good for General Motors, and vice versa.”

So, how dumb are our American cousins, anyway?

Here in Cuba, a country of 11 million souls, every one of whom appears to love Chevrolets, any new car you see nowadays is likely a Peugeot or a Geely. Meanwhile, the streets of this proud little island are a-hustle with vintage Chevies – not to mention Mercuries, Plymouths, Packards and Ramblers lovingly maintained with Bondo, duct tape and Russian knock-off parts. They’re kept running, the Cubans boast, by the world’s best mechanics.

This isn’t the doing of either the country’s Communist government or wily French and Chinese auto salesmen. It’s the Americans shooting themselves in both feet, year after year for more than half a century, as they punish the cheeky Cubans for setting too independent an example to the Third World. It’s certainly no objection to Communism, as the hypocritical Americans have little trouble dealing with China or Vietnam.

This punishment takes the form of an embargo – an act of war. The half-century-long war against Cuba hurts ordinary Cubans without question. They struggle on a shoestring, with a little help from their Canadian and European friends – plus the Russians, who are back in droves, mostly as tourists, though more than a few have that Spetsnaz look.

So antique cars, motorcycle sidecars, battered buses and trucks doing service as public transit are the order of the day for ordinary Cubans on the move – not to mention horse-drawn wagons and shoe leather as an obvious fuel shortage bites. Tourists ride in Chinese-made buses.

One could argue the effects of the embargo have not been all bad. Despite their proximity to Florida, the embargo has insulated the Cubans from many of the worst features of American culture. It has also vastly strengthened the government of the Brothers Castro, although this has allowed Cubans to excel in unexpected areas.

Nowadays, American taxpayers may be looking as shopworn as the average Cuban, but even as their government bailed out fat-cat bankers with trillions of dollars, there was no way poor and working Americans had access to the equivalent of Cuba’s excellent systems of public education or health care. It makes one wonder what Cubans could have achieved without the cruel and stupid embargo.

But the embargo has also hurt Americans. Not so far away in Detroit, another crumbling city, the former Big Three automakers are still in business thanks only to bailouts by hard-pressed taxpayers.

Journalists who cover the U.S. automakers began years ago to call these companies “the Detroit Three,” in recognition of the fact non-American carmakers like Toyota, Fiat and Volkswagen are now bigger. In 2009, all GM was so close to collapse it couldn’t function without, in effect, state ownership. You know, like Cuba. And despite the enthusiasm of stock touts, its condition remains fragile.

Access to a market of 11 million people who love GM products and paste Chevrolet bowtie logos on decrepit Ladas and Skodas might not save the Detroit Three, but it sure as heck wouldn’t hurt!

Fully opening this market to American business would also help the Canadian industrial heartland. After all, GM’s most productive and reliable assembly plants are in Ontario. Some are mothballed, and thousands of workers have lost jobs, because of GM’s troubles.

We have an expression in English to describe behaviour like the U.S. embargo of Cuba. It’s called “cutting off your nose to spite your face.” If the Americans were smart, they’d stop. Instead, under President Barack Obama’s disappointing leadership, things seem to have gotten worse.

Ordinary Cubans, of course, crave an end to this pointless cruelty. Perhaps, though, they should be careful what they wish for. Someday they may find new Chevrolets and new friends aren’t as reliable as the old ones!

This post originally appeared as David Climenhaga’s column in the Dec. 24, 2010, edition of the Saint City News, a weekly newspaper in St. Albert, Alberta, that no longer exists. It appeared the same day in this blog, with some interesting comments, and on Rabble.

6 Comments to: A look back to 2010: Cuba loves Chevrolets and GM needs sales – what’s wrong with this picture?

  1. pogo

    December 20th, 2014

    I have a door that leads to a bus that will take you to a plane that will fly you to somewhere where stupid people are allowed to breed freely> Dallas. Or as we like to call it the metro-plex. It’s a place for people who think 50 year embargoes are sane when the country imposing them is torturing people on the embargoed countries soil and criticizing the embargoed country for imprisoning paid assassins and war criminals. Alex; I would like “plain as the nose on your face” for 1500 please….

    What is Hypocrisy?

  2. jack

    December 20th, 2014

    The embargo should continue until the communist dictatorship fell. Shame on Obama.

    • Athabascan

      December 20th, 2014

      Yeah, I agree with Jack. The embargo should remain until Cuba becomes just like the US. A gun- totting fascist police state where white cops are free to kill black youths with impunity. Waterboardings a la Dick Cheney for everyone. Just as long as they aren’t communists right?


      • Joe

        December 20th, 2014

        Communism failed because of the leadership of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. The last vestige of communism is in North Korea and Cuba. If Cuba adopted a democratic system, the US should abolish the embargo. If not, it should stay. Shame on Obama.

        I’ve always had a problem with Canadians who travel to Cuba, keeping up a communist dictator with their hard currency. No better than giving it to a communist dictator.

        • Athabascan

          December 21st, 2014

          Joe and Jack,

          One in the same. Cuba should adopt a democratic system – just like Alberta because that works so well! One party rule for 43 years and no credible effective opposition.

          Joe would like to ban Canadians from spending money in Cuba – yeah, that’s real democratic. Preventing people from spending their own money where they please.

          That’s the problem with democracy when the likes of Joe and Jack define it. Democracy for them totalitarianism for everyone else.

          No need to fret though, Joe and Jack, Big oil defines and controls what people mistakenly call democracy in Alberta. We are their slaves whether you know it or not.

  3. theo

    December 21st, 2014

    Jack & Joe,
    Alike you know,
    They share
    A common failing.
    A brain not critical
    Of right wing politico
    Will accept any
    ridiculous proposition.
    Maggie and Ronnie
    Defeated the Commies,
    Is surely
    A telling example.

    Perhaps they share
    the same brain?


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