MEXICO CITY - A former Cabify driver has been found guilty of murdering a 19-year-old woman in a landmark 2017 case that highlights the risk of using mobile cab apps in Mexico.
The decision by a court in the state of Puebla comes after at least half a dozen instances in recent years in which young women have either been raped or murdered by male cab drivers for apps such as Cabify and Uber.
The driver, 24-year-old Ricardo Alexis Díaz López, was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the femicide [ a legal term for hate crimes against women] of Mara Fernanda Castilla Miranda, who was a student at a Puebla university.
Díaz abducted her after picking her up at 05:06 a.m. in Cholula, a town just outside the city of Puebla. He took her to a motel where he raped and murdered her, according to the investigation. He then wrapped her body in one of the motel’s blankets and dumped her in neighboring Tlaxcala state.
Her disappearance on September 8, 2017 led to widespread protests by women demanding justice. It also produced a chill among women who had turned to using cab apps because they believed them to be safer than street taxis, which are poorly regulated. Authorities in Puebla revoked Cabify’s license to operate in the state after the murder of Castilla Miranda. Cabify is based in Spain and also operates in eight Latin American countries.
After she went missing, four days went by as Castilla’s relatives and activists frantically searched for her and called on authorities to investigate. She was found dead on September 12 and Díaz was arrested three days later.
Only three out of 100 cases of homicides against women were successfully prosecuted in Mexico between 2015 and 2018, according to an analysis of official data from those years provided by the national statistics institute INEGI.
Castilla’s family asked for the maximum sentence under state law of 60 years and said they will appeal the court’s decision. Diaz’s defense will also appeal. The case against him was based on videos and DNA evidence showing that his semen was found in Mara’s clothes and the motel blanket wrapped around her body.
Other popular taxi applications in Mexico have been linked to similar cases.
In December, authorities in the northern state of Sonora arrested a driver for the taxi app Didi and charged him in the murder of Karina Badilla Castro, 23, whose beaten body was found the month before in the state capital of Hermosillo. Didi is a ride-sharing app based in China that has a presence in several Latin American countries, Japan and Australia.
In February 2020, Mexico City’s police detained an Uber driver accused of raping a 22-year-old in the capital’s outskirts. The year before, an Uber driver was jailed for raping a young woman after picking her up from a bar in Guadalajara.
And in 2016, another Uber driver was jailed for raping a woman who he had picked up in Mexico City’s hip Condesa neighborhood. Back then, Uber said “it was working with authorities” and took the driver off the app.
The problem is regional, and has reached as far south as Argentina, where other cases have led to proposals for new regulations for apps like Uber in the country’s third largest city, Rosario.
Mexico City was the first place in Latin America to regulate taxi apps in 2015, but critics say that they remain mostly unrestrained, allowing people to become drivers without appropriate controls or background checks.
Cabify is still banned from Puebla. But Uber continues to operate in the state.