The history of taxis vs Ubers in Mexico has a long history of violence. From attacks at the Mexico City airport to killings in Monterrey. In some states and cities Ubers operate safely and securely. In others, cartel involvement has made things dangerous for all.
Cancun has been in the news lately because of the violence during high season and the return of post covid travel. But the drama has occurred for years. In 2017 a narco banner was placed in Cancun threatening to kill all Uber drivers.
The state has flip flopped back and forth from allowing Uber to banning it. The flip flop is the effect of bribes paid to the government from the Taxi Union, which is becoming publicly supported by organized crime.
Currently the government has reinstated Uber and the Taxi Union and organized crime groups are not pleased, countering with violence almost daily.
Taxi driver organizations have long played a role in organized crime in Mexico and across the globe. Taxi drivers, while usually hard working drivers, are often swindled into systems of providing live information on every block of a city in reward for security from organized crime.
Foreigners typically will not have the same experience in a taxi in Mexico as a local Spanish speaker. Locals often are bombarded with random chatty experiences that become uncomfortable at times when it suddenly feels like an interrogation. The mix of these conversations and the fact that there are taxis on almost every street in Mexico, makes them a very valuable asset for organized crime.
Taxis in Mexico are not known for kidnappings the way they are in Colombia and other countries. It is the information they provide that makes them useful to organized crime in Mexico.
In Cancun the taxi system is important because the airport serves a vast area and often rides generate a large amount of income for taxi companies and those who invest in them. This, combined with many criminal organizations operating in the area, has made it the boiling point for the feud in Mexico to keep taxis active.
While taxi drivers are not often known as cartel members or associates, the pressure being put on them to act has been strong. Likely forcing taxi drivers to engage in violence they never dreamed of.
Most people prefer Ubers for cost, safety, and ease of use. If the taxi system fails in Mexico, organized crime will lose an important asset. Cartel violence occurs rarely in the tourist zone of Cancun, but when it does it makes global headlines. Cartel henchmen are outnumbered by police and military presence, leaving pressure on the actual taxi drivers to act out to hold up negotiated deals.
Most taxi drivers in cities have a massive WhatsApp group, where they document and share information throughout the day on what is going on in the city. This information is often shared with criminal elements.
Recently a local plaza boss was assassinated in Veracruz, near the international airport. He was killed for a tit for tat feud with a local CJNG cell, but the taxi drama was also involved.
The local boss had strong ties to politics in the state and helped keep Ubers banned in Veracruz. In the end, he was killed running into a taxi while watching his family take 500 plus bullets into his vehicle. The taxi driver was also injured in the shooting, who is said to have been obligated into the situation due to allegiance.
In Cancun, multiple gangs and cartel splinter groups are fighting for control of coastal access and local drug sales. Street sales of cocaine in Playa del Carmen and Cancun often match the price per gram being sold in the northern part of the United States. With most people coming to the area to party cash in hand, the market is as lucrative as a large city in the United States.
Organized elements have attempted to operate in the shadows of this area for years, often recruiting bilingual young deportees to sell drugs in the tourist zones. This method allows dispensable and desperate workers to take the fall when arrests are made for the media.
The group known as “Los Pelones” (no connection to Los Pelones de Veracruz) has claimed to run the complete plaza of the Riviera Maya for years. CJNG and Sinaloa factions continually dispute that, with gang on gang violence happening on the outskirts of the cities at times.
Recently news reports emerged that the local Cancun prison was under dispute by the Los Pelones, the Sinaloa Cartel, and members of the Cancun Cartel.
The Cancun Cartel is rarely mentioned in the media, but had a strong presence for years in the area. It is reported to be a group of defectors of the Los Pelones and many other criminal cells operating in the state.
A few high profile shootings have occurred in the tourist zones, rattling tourists momentarily, but tourism is still booming according to statistics. Locals used to claim that a criminal element helped keep petty crime down by enforcing street justice, but the recent events are rattling the market with the post covid boom and taxis losing out on money to Uber once again.
Government statements after the violence
U.S. Embassy and Consulates in Mexico
“In the wake of recent incidents involving taxi and Uber drivers in Quintana Roo, U.S. citizens are reminded of guidance provided on Travel.State.gov, specifically about the use of application-based transportation services in Mexico, which states: Application-based car services such as Uber and Cabify are available in many Mexican cities, and generally offer another safe alternative to taxis. Official complaints against Uber and other drivers do occur, however, and past disputes between these services and local taxi unions have occasionally turned violent, resulting in injuries to U.S. citizens in some instances.”
Quintana Roo Official Cristina Torres
“With respect to the right to demonstrate, we will guarantee free transit and the rights of Quintana Roo residents and tourists,” the government wrote in a public statement released Monday after taxi drivers blocked the hotel zone.
“The state government will participate in dialogue and listen to all voices guaranteeing peace and tranquility,” they added after days of ongoing aggression by Cancun taxi drivers that resulted in a U.S.-issued travel warning.
On Monday, the Secretary of Government, Cristina Torres, said that “peace will not be violated” regarding the most recent attention-getting stunt by Cancun taxi drivers, which was the complete blocking of all three Cancun Hotel Zone entrances.