Taillight Diplomacy: Revved or Stalled?

14 06 2011

I’m prone to strong and readily formed opinions; it’s a rare matter that leaves me feeling a bit ambivalent. Taillight Diplomacy is a case in point.

Autowriter Mark Phelan profiled Taillight Diplomacy, a group that has supposedly “built links between Cuban and American car culture for 13 years,” in a Detroit Free Press article last Friday. The group aims to connect lovers of classic autos in Cuba with those in the States through an exchange of knowledge, expertise, and eventually, actual cars and car owners through a proposed event at the Woodward Dream Cruise.

Basically every photo of Havana has to include a few vintage cars; the Cuban Ministry of Tourism probably has something to do with this

At first blush, Taillight Diplomacy seems to be an organization tailored specifically to my tastes: I’m fascinated by Cuban culture and crazy for classic cars. Still, the whole concept seems a bit screwy. What good will shipping American car enthusiasts and their prized possessions to Havana do? If Taillight Diplomacy paves the way for Cubans and their battered postwar Chevys to visit the United States, why on earth would they ever want to make the trek back to Castro’s paradise?

I’ll admit that the ongoing United States embargo against Cuba is a bit of a mystery to most of my generation, myself included. The Cold War ended right around the time we were born, so we never experienced the tension of having Soviet weaponry parked less than 100 miles off the Florida coast; since that particular threat evaporated, the continuation of the embargo often seems more an issue of prideful stubbornness than a matter of national self-interest.

Any organization or initiative that seeks to foster connections between the people of the United States and Cuba is, in my mind at least, a worthy endeavor. I want to believe that a shared love of Detroit’s rolling sculptures can cut across decades of political deadlock and bridge the Straits of Florida. But as noble as Taillight Diplomacy’s objectives are, the whole thing seems like a big (tail)pipe dream. After 13 years of effort, not much has been accomplished; the organization does not even seem to have a website.

Perhaps you’re having as hard a time as I am making heads or tails out of Taillight Diplomacy’s mission and prospects (which seem rather dim). While you’re busy scratching your head, the slideshow that accompanies Phelan’s article is worth a glance. I spotted a few real gems among the innumerable Chevys, including a ’48 Cadillac with a full continental tire kit and a bombed-out ’58 Plymouth Belvedere. Who knows what else is still chugging down the streets of Old Havana. Someday, we may be able to go down and have a look ourselves.

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