Fidel Castro's limousines: From presidential cars to Havana taxis


Soviet limousines once used as presidential cars by Fidel Castro have been converted into Havana taxi cabs.

The limousine cabs were at the service of tourists, who want to experience an extra bit of history as they ride around the city.

"When I tell (travelers) where the car came from, they sit in the seat back there and ... stretch their legs and say, 'I can't believe it!'" said Moises Suarez, a 58-year-old taxi driver for one of the former Cuban president's limousines.

Suarez has been driving the limousine for the past three years.

The limousines were manufactured by Russian companies GAZ and ZIL in the 1960s and 1970s. Included in the cars sent to Cuba is a ZIL-111 convertible that was the very first one to be produced. The convertible is said to be a personal gift from Soviet head Nikita Khrushchev to Fidel Castro.

Suarez drives a Chaika model from GAZ, of which the name translates to seagull in Russian. Most of the car's components are still the original ones that came with in when it was first brought to Cuba, as can be seen with the Cyrillic lettering that adorns that radio's buttons and knobs. However, the engine has been replaced by a Mercedes one to keep the car running well.

Up to six passengers can ride on the limousine comfortably. Suarez's limousine is beginning to show its age though, with chipped and peeling faux wood inlays and faded upholstery. 

Despite that fact, it is still a unique experience to ride around Havana inside the limousine, with fares very negotiable. Suarez charges a few dollars for quick trips and about $100 to $140 per day for all-day road trips in other parts of Cuba.

It is also a great experience to think who else has taken a ride on the limousine during its days as a presidential car. While Castro himself only used one limousine, and just occasionally as he often used a military jeepney for transportation, the cars were the ones used as transportation by visiting VIPs. 

About 14 of these Russian limousines were given to Cubataxi five years ago, with Suarez revealing that 10 of these cars are still currently operating as taxi cabs.

Suarez has a small sign on the door of his driver's side saying "Smile, Jesus loves you," which is ironic considering that Cuba was officially an atheist country for a time back when Castro was the president.

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