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Cubans awoke on Friday for the first time in half a century with the right to buy new and used vehicles from the state without special permission, but price markups of 400 percent or more quickly dashed most people's hopes.
A new Kia Rio hatchback that starts at $13,600 in the United States sells for $42,000 in Havana, while a fresh-off-the-lot Peugeot 508 family car, the most luxurious of which lists for the equivalent of about $53,000 in the U.K., will set Cubans back a cool $262,000.
"Between all my family here in Cuba and over in Miami, we couldn't come up with that kind of money," said Gilbert Losada, a 28-year-old musical director. "We're going to wait and see if they lower the prices, which are really crazy. We're really disappointed."
The average monthly wage in Cuba, where about 4 million people in the 5-million-strong labor force work for the state, is $20. Some make significantly more as musicians, artists, diplomats, employees of foreign companies and doctors sent on foreign missions. Many others get financial support from relatives overseas.
But some who have managed to scrape together some savings said they have been priced out of the market.
"Let's see if a revolutionary worker who lives honorably on his salary can come and buy a car at these prices," said Guillermo Flores, a 27-year-old computer engineer. "This is a joke on the people."
Cuba's communist-run government traditionally has placed huge markups on retail goods and services paid for with hard currency — a policy that amounts to a tax on people who can afford such goods. The practice applies to everything from dried pasta to household appliances to Internet access.
The astronomical sticker prices on the cars will likely mean fewer sales and the state's leaving money on the table, said Philip Peters, a longtime Cuba analyst and the president of the Virginia-based Cuba Research Center.
"There's a lot more money to be made at lower price points," he told The Associated Press. "It's a shortsighted taxman's mentality ... Paradoxically, they mark it up so much that they're not going to make any money. But that's the mentality."
Under a reform two years ago, Cubans could buy used cars from one another, but until Friday they had to request authorization from the government to purchase a new vehicle or secondhand one, usually a rental car, from state retailers.
Before September 2011, only automobiles that were in Cuba before the 1959 revolution could be freely bought and sold, which is why there are so many cars from the 1950s or earlier — most of them American made — on Cuban streets.
Along with Cuba's famous rolling museum of vintage U.S. cars, there are many Soviet-made cars, dating from when the Soviet Union was the island's biggest ally and benefactor.
Newer models are largely in government hands and were sold used at a relatively low prices to select individuals such as diplomats, doctors and teachers who served abroad.
Al Jazeera and wire services