Cuba Joins the EV World
By Bill Moore
Cuba may be one of the last places you'd think of as going green, but with the help of a Cayman Islands-based automotive importer, they now have their first trio of electric vehicles: and the man that made it possible is John Felder.
After half of century of bitter acrimony, relations between Cuba and the United States have finally begun to thaw. Each now has opened embassies in their respective national capitals. In the intervening twelve months, US-sanctions have started to ease, cruise lines have added the communist country to their ports-of-call this month, US airlines are resuming flights, and as of this week, direct postal service will shortly commence, at least on an experimental basis. You can even book one of thousands of rooms with local Cuban families on Airbnb!
While U.S. citizens still cannot go to Cuba without being a part of legally-sanctioned tours, some of those visitors arriving at Marina Hemingway, just west of Havana, are going to be greeted with one of the first three electric vehicles in Cuba and the man at the center of that remarkable footnote of history is John Felder, a retired Chrysler executive who for more than a decade has called Grand Cayman his home. We interviewed Felder in the summer of 2014 about his work introducing electric cars into the Caribbean, an activity that not only attracted EV World's interest, but also officials in the Cuban government.
Felder explains he received a call from Cuba two years ago. Thinking he was a Caymanian, the official asked him to help import some electric vehicles into Cuba for the country to begin testing. While his company is a registered Cayman Islands business and not obligated to observe the US government's decades-old trade embargo, Felder is a U.S. citizen and former Chrysler Corporation executive, who thought he'd "retire" to the Caymans, a group of islands in the middle of the Caribbean south of Cuba. He is the first to import, sell, lease and service electric vehicles in the region, originally two-seat Wheego's and now Nissan and Tesla electric cars, one of his first customers being Budget Rent-a-Cars on Grand Cayman. Today, he noted with some justifiable pride the country the popular tourist attraction will have thirteen AC Level 2 public chargers. The company also just received their first all-electric Nissan NV200e panel van, which will be used by the Cayman government.
In this two-part, 30-minute long interview, Felder explains how he was able, with U.S. government permission and the help of a couple Canadian businesses, to import the first modern electric cars into Cuba and how those cars will be used and serviced. It should be noted that Canada also does not recognize nor support the US embargo. In fact, the US is pretty well alone in the world in doing so. Only strong political opposition from the Cuban exile community in south Florida over the last 40 years has kept lawmakers from revoking it. See Ann Louise Bardach's "Cuban Confidential: Love and Vengeance in Miami and Havana" for an eye-opening view of what Foreign Affairs calls the "incestuous relationships and hardball tactics that have kept Cuba firmly under Fidel Castro and U.S. policy toward Cuba paralyzed under the influence of Miami's Cuban Americans."
With President Obama's decision one year ago this month to begin a gradual re-normalization of relations with Cuba, developments like those brokered by businessmen like Felder are now starting to become normal, which it's hoped will lead to an improvement of the lives of the long-suffering people of Cuba.
Video Part 1
Video Part 2
Originally published: 17 Dec 2015
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