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We all know the administration of City of Buenos Aires Mayor Horacio Rodríguez Larreta doesn’t like Uber. It has not wasted a single opportunity to side with taxi drivers and their mafia-like union whenever possible. But now, the whole ridiculous fight has reached a new level of ridiculousness as its determination to take down the global application no matter what, now includes the ridiculous suggestion that drivers using the app should be sent to prison.

As part of the City Attorney General’s Office prosecution into the ride-sharing app for not operating in accordance to local legislation, police performed 13 simultaneous raids at Uber’s main offices in the City and the homes of four managers and eight drivers in order to seize documents to help its case.

And its planning on taking it further: the prosecutor leading the case, Martín Lapadú, is set to press new charges against these eight drivers and four managers that could actually see them behind bars if found guilty. Uber, however, didn’t seem to be very impressed by the strong-arm tactics and released a statement directed at its drivers assuring them the company would “stick by” them and would “always stand firm in our commitment to offer a new transportation option, as well as an income opportunity to our associates.”

Prosecutor Lapadu.Photo via rempenucaprueba
Prosecutor Lapadu.Photo via rempenucaprueba

Why have these eight drivers been charged and not the other 1,000 the app claims to have? In their particular case, drivers were stopped by the police for infringing another traffic law, but were found to be transporting a passenger when they were being fined. After all, police can’t just go up to any car transporting two or more people and make them prove they are not using Uber.

Drivers are currently charged with carrying out an operation that seeks to make a profit in public space without City authorization, a misdemeanor that can get them a fine if found guilty, whereas managers have been accused of organizing said activity, and would also, in the worst case scenario, have to pay a fine.

The prosecutor has now decided to up the ante: he will accuse drivers of violating article 74 of the City’s misdemeanor code — exceeding the limits of their driver’s licenses — and that could translate into 10 days in prison if found guilty. Managers could spend even more time in jail as they will be charged with continuing to operate Uber even though the City ordered its closure in April. This misdemeanor is called a violation of foreclosure — creative, I know — and those found guilty can be sentenced to up to 20 days in prison and be forbidden from operating similar businesses for two years.

Part of the seizure. Photo via Infobae.
Part of the seizure. Photo via Infobae.

But that’s not all. Prosecutor Lapadú is going for the jugular and has already called on the City’s Court of Appeals to order that the app be blocked throughout the country. City Judge Claudia Alvaro had earlier ruled that the app had to be blocked within the City of Buenos Aires limits. But internet service providers said that was an impossible proposition. Should the Court grant the prosecutor’s request, Uber is likely to find it difficult to get passengers, regardless of their willingness to fight the power.

This latest action comes on the heels of the City taking numerous moves to make life as difficult as possible for Uber, such as blocking credit cards, requesting the National Communications Agency (ENACOM) ban its website and towing all vehicles found working with the application. The ride-sharing app is illegal in the capital because it does not use any authorized radio service to control the dispatched cars.

All the regulation may have made it more difficult for Uber to operate since it first launched services in April. But the efforts have yet to stop the company that claimed late last month that  it has  “more than” 1,000 drivers and 29,000 users.

The City government has also expressed interest in creating its own mobile phone app, “TAXI BA”  to rival Uber, so taxi drivers could receive requests from potential passengers via smartphone and accept payment through credit cards. However, the initiative, which would have modified the law regulating taxi services, did not go down well with the Chamber of Radio Taxis (CAR), which seems to be against any change that technology can bring to their business and make life better for users. The chamber said the app would automatically bankrupt small taxi companies and nationalize taxi services.