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Driving in Cuba, reconsidered

   SHOULD YOU you get behind the wheel in Cuba? Should I?
   The case of Cody LeCompte, the Canadian teenager held on the island after a collision until public pressure helped secure his (pending) release, should have us all thinking about the risks of renting a car there.   Canada's Foreign Affairs department, we know, has long advised against driving in Cuba, and several Cuba hands whose opinions I respect tell me they prefer to leave the driving to others when they visit the Caribbean nation.
   Still, LeCompte's experience, as best I can tell, was rare. Despite widespread claims that such detentions happen regularly, only one other documented case emerged in all the attention that Cody's story received in the press and on sites such as Facebook. And that one was, well, complicated.
   "Anne," an Eastern Ontario woman who didn't want her full name published, told the Ottawa Citizen she was held in Cuba for a full year after a February 2008 accident in which two Cubans were killed.
   She had rented the car on the Varadero resort peninsula, but said a Cuban friend was driving when it left the pavement and rolled over several times, ejecting the two passengers who died. The friend, however, insisted to police that Anne had been behind the wheel.
   By the time she was finally acquitted – and again, it's not true that you are "presumed guilty" in Cuba until you can prove your innocence – Anne was $40,000 in debt and had lost the hair salon she had operated from her home in Canada.
   Cody's case was less serious. No one died. No one disputed who was driving. Forcing a visitor to remain for months for an investigation to unfold at the pace of a Cuban snail was unreasonable  a point the Canadian government finally made to the Cuban authorities.
   But as said, it was rare. That may not give much comfort to Cody and his family, but it should give others confidence that they can rent a car and drive in Cuba without major risk, especially if they take time to learn beforehand about its conditions and laws.
   Which brings us to the CARISTAS 10 TIPS FOR DRIVING IN CUBA, revised in view of the recent events.


Anonymous said…
Great post as always, Rob. Keep 'em coming.
Anonymous said…
The car I had rented was also involved in a serious car accident, in about 2004. A Cuban friend was driving, and a Cuban fellow had driven his motorcycle INTO the car. He was drunk. The man that was hit was a member of the military "guard of the interior", which made it double scary.
It was at a "festival", and friends came running to get me. I immediately saw what had happened, had a friend take off his shirt, and we tied up the serious leg wound of the injured man. We got him into the front seat of the car laying him down with his leg propped up, the friend who had been driving sat in the back seat, holding the fellow in and comforting. We raced to the hospital, 15 minutes (and miles) away.
Luckily for us, the man was very honest and told investigators what had happened. My friend never denied driving the car (even though he really should not have been). The man's Captain of his regiment came to the hospital that night, and it was unspeakable the fear that he drove into us both. IF my friend (or I, for that matter) had been charged with this accident, we could have spent up to 10 years IN a Cuban jail.
As I said, we were lucky in that the man that had hit the car was very honest, explaining his drunkeness and that he had driven INTO the car.
The difference was ... I KNEW the consequences. We just happened to have been involved in an accident with a very honorable man!
Michael Burr said…
Rob, great article. I am going to add this into one of our blog stories about driving in Cuba. If you ever need a Cuba GPS Map then please email me over at -
Caristas said…
Thanks Michael. It's important for readers to know that dedicated GPS devices remain prohibited in Cuba. If you are found to be bringing one in, it will be seized at the airport (although you should be able to collect it as you leave). We can see by various forums that some travellers choose to use GPS units in Cuba despite the ban. They do so at their own risk. Let's hope they are being discreet, and that they avoid using them in sensitive areas such as near military installations.
sabina moon said…
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