BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Uber launched its service in Argentina’s capital Tuesday in defiance of local authorities and despite road blocks set up by protesting taxi drivers that snarled traffic during the evening rush hour.
The company said more than 20,000 Uber drivers were now available in Buenos Aires. Uber said it will be successful because its prices are below tariffs regularly charged by local taxi drivers. It also said thousands of residents of Buenos Aires had already downloaded the ride-sharing app.
“I think it’s very good that you can rate the drivers, it’s cheaper than regular taxis and that there’s no extra charges for carrying more luggage,” said Leo Quintela, who signed up for the service and was looking at the app on his smartphone.
The Buenos Aires mayor’s office has warned that Uber is not authorized to operate yet because it doesn’t meet the requirements for transporting passengers.
“There’s no way to guarantee the safety of passengers and the quality of the service,” Juan Jose Mendez, the Buenos Aires transportation secretary, told reporters.
He warned that city inspectors might seize cars offering Uber’s service.
Local cabbies blocked several streets and avenues in protests throughout Buenos Aires. Holding signs that read “Uber=road insecurity,” ”Uber=tax evasion” and “Uber=worsening work conditions,” the taxi drivers said the service puts their livelihood at risk.
“Uber is tearing us in half,” said Daniel Capella, who has been a cabbie for 23 years. “They’re totally illegal because they’re trampling on 38,000 taxi drivers who are paying passenger insurance and all the city requirements so we can work legally.”
Uber began in 2009 and is now operating in 64 countries. Its drivers have previously faced angry protests in Mexico City, Paris and other cities.
Associated Press video journalist Paul Byrne contributed to this report.
NEWARK, N.J. (AP) — New Jersey Transit’s director defended the use of audio surveillance systems on some of its trains Tuesday, as some questioned the monitoring’s legal and ethical underpinnings.
Audio and video recording currently is in use on the agency’s River Line between Trenton and Camden and will be in use on similar light rail trains in Newark and in Hudson County, NJ Transit said Tuesday.
Interim Executive Director Dennis Martin, who will be replaced by a new executive director in two weeks, said the agency is using whatever tools at its disposal to “deter criminal activity” and keep passengers safe, citing global terror attacks.
“In light of terrorist attacks on mass transit facilities around the world, New Jersey Transit is availing itself of the latest technology to deter that, always keeping in mind the privacy rights of our customers,” he said.
Martin declined to answer questions about how the audio data is stored and for how long, who reviews it and how it is disposed of. He only added that “there are laws that govern that and we’re in compliance.”
The American Civil Liberties Union of New Jersey has raised questions about the monitoring, though it has not formally challenged it.
“There are laws that say you can’t surveil conversations that you aren’t a part of, when a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy,” said Ed Barocas, ACLU New Jersey legal director. “If you get a call from your doctor or from children or a spouse and you look for an isolated area of the train where you no one can hear you, you don’t expect the government to be listening in.”
A New Jersey Transit spokeswoman said the agency has no plans to put audio and video monitoring on its heavy rail lines. NJ Transit’s buses are equipped with audio and video surveillance systems but those have to either be activated by the driver or are activated by a collision, a spokesman said Tuesday.
Barocas was skeptical of the utility of monitoring potentially thousands of conversations to combat terrorism.
“Terrorism is really a red herring,” he said. “You don’t look for a needle in a haystack by just creating an immeasurably larger haystack.”
BUENOS AIRES, Argentina (AP) — Corruption allegations always swirled around former President Cristina Fernandez during her two terms in office, but they never stuck.
Now, the walls seem to be closing on the fiery populist leader who typically criticized those who dared to question her management and ethics. In the past week, a federal prosecutor has asked that she be included in a widening investigation into money laundering. Her former transportation secretary and a businessman with close ties to her family were arrested in separate corruption probes that could implicate her. A separate money-laundering probe into hotels owned by her family has been relaunched.
To top it off, she has been called to testify Wednesday in an alleged scheme to manipulate Argentina’s currency, marking the first time she has been legally summoned in an investigation against her.
“This has happened all of a sudden,” said Sergio Berensztein, a local political analyst and pollster. “Four months ago, Cristina (Fernandez) was still one of the most powerful people in Argentina.”
But then, she was succeeded in the presidency in December by a conservative political rival, Mauricio Macri, the former Buenos Aires mayor and son of one of the country’s richest businessmen.
Fernandez and her late husband and predecessor, Nestor Kirchner, had been the most dominant political leaders to come out of Argentina in decades and are often credited with lifting the country out of its worst economic crisis in 2001. But detractors say their social policies contributed to spiraling inflation and criticize her combative rhetoric, the couple’s personal enrichment, and their ties to scandals. She always dismissed the accusations as lies by the press or defamations by enemies aimed at discrediting the achievements of their collective 12 years in power.
While the corruption cases seem to be getting closer to Fernandez, she hasn’t been formally charged with as a suspect in any crime. When she decided not to run for another office last year — such as senator, a move that would have afforded her certain immunities — her supporters said it showed she had nothing to hide.
“Of course, we think this all goes back to political motives,” said Daniel Filmus, a Fernandez ally and former Argentine education minister. “This is revenge by sectors that were punished by the politics of economic growth and social equality that were led by Cristina.”
Since Fernandez ended her term in December, the new administration has promised to crack down on the corruption that has long plagued Argentina. Analysts say that has emboldened judges who are now more independent to pursue sensitive cases against the former leader and her close circle without fear of retribution.
“When Fernandez was president, she exercised power very forcefully and everyone was scared,” Berensztein said. “But this fear has dissipated.”
A once seemingly untouchable friend of the presidential couple was arrested last week as soon as he landed in his private jet at a Buenos Aires airport. Lazaro Baez, a millionaire businessman who got public works contracts during the Kirchner and Fernandez administrations, is accused of embezzling and laundering about $5 million. When brought before a judge, he refused to testify and remains jailed.
Prosecutors began looking into Baez after a 2013 journalistic investigation named him as Kirchner’s figurehead in an elaborate scheme. The news report said Baez used his companies to launder money for the former presidents.
Argentines are accustomed to corruption scandals that grab headlines before becoming lost in slow-moving investigations. But even in a country that ranked 107 out of 167 on Transparency International’s annual corruption index last year, many Argentines were shocked by recent images on local TV that showed one of Baez’s sons and others counting wads of cash at a company under investigation.
Prosecutors have said they are looking into the financial transactions at several top hotels owned by the Kirchner family in the southern province of Santa Cruz, where Fernandez has been living since she stepped down from office. Local news reports say the hotels are usually empty, raising questions about how they generate the income they report.
Fernandez remains popular with many Argentines. She traveled on Monday to Buenos Aires ahead of testimony she was ordered to give on Wednesday. Fernandez is suspected of being part of a scheme to keep the Argentine peso inflated by selling derivatives below market value. The sales led to a sharp drop in central bank reserves.
Her supporters say that the courts should instead focus on other former presidents and even Argentina’s current leader.
“In this country we have corruption cases that go back all the way to the 1990s,” said Roberto Bacman, a political analyst and director of the Center for Public Opinion Studies, a South American research firm. “It’s strange that justice is rushing things just now.”
Former President Carlos Menem’s status as a lawmaker has protected him from imprisonment, including a 4 ½-year sentence for embezzlement and a 7-year sentence for weapons smuggling. Earlier this year, he declined to testify in a case in which he is accused of derailing the investigation into Argentina’s worst terrorist attack.
Macri, who campaigned on promises to root out corruption, has recently drawn attention for his role in two offshore companies, including one that emerged in the recent “Panama Papers” leak. He said last week that he will set up a blind trust to make his finances transparent, and he has been careful in comments about Fernandez.
When asked about Fernandez during an interview with The Associated Press last month, Macri noted she had not been charged with anything. But he said he would not stand in the way of any investigation.
Hugo Ron, who owns a newspaper stand in downtown Buenos Aires, doesn’t think much of any of them.
“It seems like everything is dirty,” he said. “There are no clean politicians.”
Associated Press writer Debora Rey and AP video journalist Leonardo La Valle contributed to this report.
Luis Andres Henao on Twitter: https://twitter.com/LuisAndresHenao
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — The New Mexico Tourism Department announced it will allow some state businesses to use the popular “New Mexico True” brand on their products in an attempt to expand the tourism slogan that officials believe has drawn more visitors to the Southwestern state.
State officials said last week it will launch a New Mexico True certified program to highlight businesses that are “uniquely New Mexican” while also encouraging more businesses to look into moving to the state.
To earn a certification, products must be 100 percent made in New Mexico, animals and livestock must be raised in New Mexico, or products must be grown in the state, officials said.
“The New Mexico True brand is doing great things for our state, providing opportunities to diversify our economy and create jobs in small towns and large cities around New Mexico,” said Gov. Susana Martinez. “But even more opportunities exist to draw more attention to the people, places and now products that make New Mexico such a great place to visit, work and live.”
Four years ago, the New Mexico Tourism Department unveiled the New Mexico True campaign, which promised tourists that they would encounter “adventures steeped in culture.” Officials said the campaign was aimed at painting New Mexico as a place for outdoor fun and cultural exploration.
Commercials from the campaign feature such celebrities like Carlos Condit, an Albuquerque-born mixed-martial artist, and state attractions like Route 66 and Taos Pueblo.
Another online video from the campaign has Martinez taking a kayak ride in the rapids of the Rio Grande. On the video, she screams and paddles in the rapids to a soundtrack of the New Mexico True campaign.
Officials say the tourism campaign helped draw 33 million visitors to New Mexico in 2014 — the largest number of visitors on record.
Earlier this year, Catholic Health Initiatives St. Joseph’s Children, a Catholic community health organization, launched a parody campaign, “New Mexico Truth” to draw attention to child poverty in New Mexico.
The organization’s CEO, Allen Sanchez, said he didn’t have a problem with state officials using resources to promote New Mexico products like chile and food. But Sanchez wished there was a same strong effort to fight child poverty in the state.
“If we invest more in social programs, we will see the effects,” Sanchez said.
Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras. His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/russell-contreras .
MOSCOW (AP) — Russian President Vladimir Putin on Tuesday highlighted the ability of Russia and the United States to cooperate closely in space, despite all of the difficulties the two countries face on Earth.
Putin spoke by video link with astronauts from both countries aboard the International Space Station on the day Russia celebrates Cosmonauts Day. It was on April 12, 1961, that Yuri Gagarin orbited the Earth to become the first man in space.
“We attach great importance that despite whatever difficulties we face on Earth, people in space work shoulder to shoulder, hand in hand, to help each other and fulfill tasks that are essential not just for our countries but for all of humanity,” Putin told the six-man crew.
Timothy Kopra, the American commander of the mission, congratulated Putin on the 55th anniversary of Gagarin’s flight. “I am thankful for that fantastic event,” he said in Russian.
Putin also spoke by video link with officials at the Vostochny Cosmodrome, which will hold its first launch on April 27. He expressed hope that Russia and its partners in the space program — in the U.S., Europe and Japan — would work together in ways that “would help us bring our positions closer and perhaps through space understand one another better on Earth.”
The sprawling space center in Russia’s Far East will give Russia its own facility for manned launches and ease its reliance on the Soviet-era Baikonur launch pad in Kazakhstan.
CHICAGO (AP) — Four congressional staffers have told the U.S. House that they’ve been subpoenaed by the federal court in Springfield, Illinois, where a grand jury is conducting a probe into the spending of former U.S. Rep. Aaron Schock.
The financial chief for the House, Traci Beaubian, and three other staff members wrote letters notifying the chamber about the subpoenas that were read on the House floor Monday, the Chicago Tribune reported (http://trib.in/22qmdVq ) based on House records noting the letters were received and video of the letters being read. The letters did not mention the subject of the subpoenas.
Schock, the one-time rising GOP star from Peoria, came under intense scrutiny in early 2015 for his spending, including redecorating his office in the style of TV’s “Downton Abbey.” He left office in March 2015 amid questions about congressional and campaign spending.
He has since been issued at least two grand jury subpoenas seeking campaign and congressional records. FBI agents also have removed boxes and other items from his central Illinois campaign office.
Among media reports of irregularities were Associated Press investigations into real estate deals, air travel and entertainment, including trips and events he documented on social media accounts.
Information from: Chicago Tribune, http://www.chicagotribune.com