Batista Jr.'s 1956 Corvette, and other little-known facts

Che’s Chevrolet, Fidel’s Oldsmobile is chock-a-block with detail, so exhaustive, you expect it to trail blue smoke.
Where else could you learn than Cuba imported 22,577 cars and trucks – mostly from the United States – in 1952, that Fulgencio Batista’s son (also Fulgencio) drove a 1956 Corvette, or that Matanzas, unlike most Cuban towns, preferred Fords over Chevrolets?
Yet Richard Schweid’s 2004 work is equally rich with anecdote, from accounts of riding in Havana’s 10-peso taxis to dealing with a black marketer whose hides his stash of government stamps in the air cleaner of a ’57 Chevy. With these stories, Schweid’s examination of the role of the automobile in Cuba’s popular culture thrums along like a time-tested Plymouth.
What’s missing – thankfully – is the over-reaching search for significance that so often figures in outside discussions of the Cuban roadscape. Sure, Schweid acknowledges the obvious incongruity – the emblematic U.S. cars of the 1950s, he writes, are the North American heroes of the Cuban Revolution – but further notes that, “for Cubans, the irony of depending for much of their automobile transport on pre-1960s cars built by the enemy merits little more than a shrug of the shoulders.”
Schweid is a Tennessean who now lives in Barcelona, and his writing is replete with expat perspective. You sense he abhors some aspects of Cuban communism – the restrictions on movement and free speech, the petty interferences – yet he is quick to recognize the Revolution’s achievements in ensuring education, medical care and a basic standard of living for all of its citizens.
He is, he admits, no mechanic, but he knows a Frazer from a Fairlane, and he understands the ability of a 1950s car to summon a “profound sense of nostalgia and a pleasing sense of continuity.”
Che’s Chevrolet, Fidel’s Oldsmobile (the title refers to the post-Revolution rides of the Cuban leaders) is as thoughtful as it is thorough. Car buffs and students of history – so often one and the same – will delight in it. Here is one place to find a copy: abebooks.com

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