In a former life they were the “comandante’s” cars: a fleet of black, boxy, Soviet-made limousines that for years belonged to former Cuban leader, Fidel Castro.
Today the limos known as “Chaikas” – from the Russian word for “seagull” – have been decommissioned and repurposed as Havana taxi cabs.
Moises Suarez has been driving one of the ex-presidential limos for the last three years.
The 58-year-old says it’s a daily delight to get behind the wheel.
“A lot of drivers pull up next to me at stoplights,” Suarez said.
“They start laughing and they say, ‘You never imagined you would be driving the comandante’s car, eh?’.”
The luxury stretch automobiles were produced by Russian manufacturer GAZ mostly in the 1960s and ’70s.
Those sent to Cuba reportedly included a ZIL-111 convertible model that was the first of its kind to roll off the assembly line – a personal gift to Castro from Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev.
They were often used to ferry around visiting dignitaries.
When former US President Jimmy Carter paid a historic visit in 2002, Castro picked him up at the airport in one of the Soviet limos.
Suarez, who drives for state-owned Cubataxi, said 14 of the cars passed into the hands of the company about five years ago and 10 are still on the road.
Much of his vehicle is original, from the chipped faux wood inlay to the stereo, its buttons and radio knobs labelled in Cyrillic lettering.
At some point a Mercedes engine was swapped in to keep the car running.
The limo is now at the service of tourists who want a little slice of history to go with their ride across town.
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