Miami Mechanic is Mr. Fix-It for Russian Cars in Cuba

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Fabian Zakharov speaks with a client from Cuba using his cellphone in his Zakharov Auto Parts shop in Hialeah, Florida, February 4, 2015. Zakharov, 40, is Miami’s go-to man for visiting Cubans or those with family on the island who need parts for the thousands of Russian-made Ladas and Moskvichs that dominate the country’s cracked streets, alongside Fords and Chevys dating back to the 1950s. (Photo by Javier Galeano/Reuters)

“Standing in his Miami-area shop surrounded by spare tires, dashboard gauges, and bright-colored boxes in Russian script, Fabian Zakharov taps his foot waiting for the static to pass on a phone call from Cuba. After a hurried conversation in Spanish, the Russian-born Zakharov walks to a glass case packed with engine parts and eyes the myriad bolts on the shelves. “He needs them to attach the pistons. They’re a really specific size but I can get them”, he says. Zakharov, 40, is Miami’s go-to man for visiting Cubans or those with family on the island who need parts for the thousands of Russian-made Ladas and Moskvichs that dominate the country’s cracked streets, alongside Fords and Chevys dating back to the 1950s.

The former Soviet Union began exporting its cheaply built models to Cuba in the 1970s until production began to peter out a decade ago. Very little evidence of Soviet influence remains in Cuba, except the spunky little Russian cars, famous for rattling chassis but sturdy engines. With state salaries pegged at barely $20 a month, few Cubans can afford to buy new cars, so the parts business plays a crucial role in keeping the aging models on the road. The U.S. trade embargo prevents parts from being shipped to Cuba. But Cubans visiting Miami can buy them take them back to the island, or have U.S.-based relatives find someone traveling to Havana to take them.

Zakharov supports President Barack Obama’s recent step to normalize relations between the U.S. and Cuba, even if it threatens to cut into his Lada business. Improved U.S. ties and greater prosperity in Cuba could mean a move to more modern imports like France’s Peugeot and South Korea’s Kia which have begun to make inroads in the island. Getting parts from the United States is cheaper than in Cuba, where state-run stores sell them at four times the cost, said David Peña, a mechanic and president of the Russian Car Club in Havana who drives a souped-up, sporty red 1972 Lada 2101 that he fixed himself. His own Lada has a Fiat engine and an extra Alfa Romeo carburetor. Havana chef Alberto Perez recently put a Peugeot diesel engine into his 1982 Lada. Zakharov became a conduit for the parts after arriving in the U.S. in 2006. He was born in Moscow but raised in Cuba’s central city of Camaguey where his father was an economics professor”. – David Adams, Zachary Fagenson and Francisco Alvarado via Reuters.

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Fabian Zakharov waits for clients in his Zakharov Auto Parts shop, in Hialeah, Florida, February 4, 2015. (Photo by Javier Galeano/Reuters)

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A woman walks past a Moskvich car in front of Fabian Zakharov’s Zakharov Auto Parts shop in Hialeah, Florida, February 4, 2015. (Photo by Javier Galeano/Reuters)

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Dashboards for Lada cars are displayed at Fabian Zakharov’s Zakharov Auto Parts shop, in Hialeah, Florida, February 4, 2015. (Photo by Javier Galeano/Reuters)

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Parts for the dashboard of a Lada car sit on a counter in Fabian Zakharov’s Zakharov Auto Parts in Hialeah, Florida, February 4, 2015. (Photo by Javier Galeano/Reuters)

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A part for the dashboard for Lada cars sits on a counter in Fabian Zakharov’s Zakharov Auto Parts in Hialeah, Florida, February 4, 2015. (Photo by Javier Galeano/Reuters)

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Rafael Lamela holds a drive shaft, part for the Lada car, in Fabian Zakharov’s Zakharov Auto Parts in Hialeah, Florida, February 4, 2015. (Photo by Javier Galeano/Reuters)

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Spare parts for the Lada car are displayed in Fabian Zakharov’s Zakharov Auto Parts, in Hialeah, Florida, February 4, 2015. (Photo by Javier Galeano/Reuters)

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Lester Luis checks a Moskvich in front of Fabian Zakharov’s Zakharov Auto Parts shop in Hialeah, Florida, February 4, 2015. (Photo by Javier Galeano/Reuters)

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A woman is reflected in a mirror covered in photographs of different models of the Lada car in Fabian Zakharov’s Zakharov Auto Parts shop in Hialeah, Florida, February 4, 2015. (Photo by Javier Galeano/Reuters)

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David Pena poses for a photograph with his Lada 2101 built in 1979 on a street in Havana February 9, 2015. Getting parts from the United States is cheaper than in Cuba, where state-run stores sell them at four times the cost, said Pena, a mechanic and president of the Russian Car Club in Havana who drives a souped-up, sporty red 1972 Lada 2101 that he fixed himself. His own Lada has a Fiat engine and an extra Alfa Romeo carburetor. (Photo by Enrique De La Osa/Reuters)

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People walk past a Lada that is being repaired on a street in Havana February 7, 2015. The former Soviet Union began exporting its cheaply built models to Cuba in the 1970s until production began to peter out a decade ago. Very little evidence of Soviet influence remains in Cuba, except the spunky little Russian-made Lada cars, famous for rattling chassis but sturdy engines. With state salaries pegged at barely $20 a month, few Cubans can afford to buy new cars, so the parts business plays a crucial role in keeping the aging models on the road. The U.S. trade embargo prevents parts from being shipped to Cuba. But Cubans visiting Miami can buy them take them back to the island, or have U.S.-based relatives find someone traveling to Havana to take them. (Photo by Enrique De La Osa/Reuters)

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Reynaldo Perez cleans his Lada 1200 built in 1980 on a street in downtown Havana February 7, 2015. The former Soviet Union began exporting its cheaply built models to Cuba in the 1970s until production began to peter out a decade ago. (Photo by Enrique De La Osa/Reuters)

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A Lada converted into a taxi is seen in Havana February 7, 2015. (Photo by Enrique De La Osa/Reuters)

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A Lada 1600 is seen parked at the beach on the outskirts of Havana February 8, 2015. (Photo by Enrique De La Osa/Reuters)

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A Lada converted into a taxi is seen in Havana February 7, 2015. (Photo by Enrique De La Osa/Reuters)

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A mechanic works on a Lada at a car workshop in Havana February 9, 2015. (Photo by Enrique De La Osa/Reuters)

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A man tries to adjust the windshield wiper of his Lada while driving in the rain in Havana February 8, 2015. (Photo by Enrique De La Osa/Reuters)

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Mechanics work on a piece of a Lada in a car shop in Havana February 9, 2015. (Photo by Enrique De La Osa/Reuters)

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A carburetor with a price tag of 260 Cuban Convertible Pesos (approximately US$284) is on display along with other parts in a government-run store in Havana February 7, 2015. (Photo by Enrique De La Osa/Reuters)

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Mechanics work on a Lada in a car shop in Havana February 9, 2015. (Photo by Enrique De La Osa/Reuters)

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The engine of a Lada tuned for racing competitions with a double carburetor from an Alpha Romeo is seen in car shop in Havana February 9, 2015. (Photo by Enrique De La Osa/Reuters)

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