The 'Uber War' Heats Up On The Streets Of Buenos Aires

As Uber and Cabify continue to carry passengers in Argentina despite a court ban, some taxi drivers have decided to take matters into their own hands.

Buenos Aires taxi drivers protest Uber
Buenos Aires taxi drivers protest Uber

BUENOS AIRES Traditional taxi drivers in Argentina"s sprawling capital are mad as hell about competition from ride-sharing services and aren't, apparently, going to take it anymore to the point of even "hunting" their rivals and physically attacking them.

For months now, the fight between Buenos Aires cabbies, on the one hand, and Uber and Cabify drivers, on the other, has become increasingly more violent, with Uber alone claiming some 650 incidents just this year. Assaults have targeted both cars and drivers, and included "weapons, acid, burning vehicles, shootings, ambushes, physical violence and threats," Uber reports.

Since Uber landed in Argentina two years ago, taxi drivers have not only staged protests, they've also mounted operations they call "hunts' to harass and intimidate rival drivers. Members of the 200-person Asociación Civil Taxistas Unidos, a cab-driver organization, admit that they've engaged in "trap and pursuit" operations to scare Uber drivers, but deny using physical violence.

"Some taxi drivers have taken the law into their own hands," said Marcelo Boeri, who heads the association. "We don't approve of what they do. But we understand them." Boeri also said that the state, by doing nothing to stop Uber from illegally stealing work from traditional taxi drivers, is an "accomplice in these attacks."

"I'd like to be Hulk and turn their car over. But I don't have time to be a gangster."

Attackers communicate among themselves, and sometimes carry weapons like pneumatic air rifles, sharp items to cut tires, or acid to spoil the car paint. In some cases they confuse Uber cars with private vehicles. There have even been incidents of attacks on cars carrying children.

One seasoned taxi driver who preferred not to share his name told Clarín that it's "easy" to spot an Uber car. "After driving a taxi for 27 years, I recognize them immediately," he said. "There's a passenger waiting while holding a cellphone. A car approaches, signals and the passenger gets in."

The man described how taxi drivers will then follow the Uber, using an application "that turns the phone into a walkie-talkie" to communicate among themselves. "If necessary we take over from each other along the way, while looking for a policeman."

"When I am there 50 minutes without a trip and I see them with passengers, I'd like to be Hulk and turn their car over. But I don't have time to be a gangster," he added, insisting that in his case, he's never taken violent actions. "I work 12 hours every day. The taxi is what keeps my home."

Uber has denounced the actions with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which has received evidence on some 4,000 Uber drivers suffering harassment in Buenos Aires. According to the Commission, drivers are alleging officials and police are not investigating the violence or acting to impede its recurrence.

The Commission has called for respect for the human rights of Uber drivers, as reports indicate an increase in and intensification of attacks.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.

It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park


Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!