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Masked Gunmen Abducted and Pistol-Whipped Uber Drivers in Guadalajara

Uber drivers all over the world have come under attack in recent months, but few outbreaks of violence have been as extreme as the one this week in Mexico’s second-largest city.
August 8, 2015, 7:45pm
Imagen por Marco Ugarte/AP

From the streets of Paris and Brussels to Mexico City, Uber drivers the world over have come under attack from irate taxi drivers in recent months. But few, if any, outbreaks of violence have been as extreme as in Guadalajara on Wednesday night, when masked gunmen assaulted and abducted several Uber drivers and then stole their vehicles.

Jose Eseverri, Uber's chief spokesman in Mexico, confirmed to VICE News that five Uber partners were attacked in separate incidents close to Guadalajara's international airport between 11pm and 12:30am on Wednesday night and early Thursday morning.

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Wearing masks and carrying handguns, the five assailants demanded to know the locations of other Uber drivers and proceeded to pistol-whip several of the victims. According to Uber, the attackers took four of the drivers hostage aboard their own vehicles for approximately an hour before dumping them on the outskirts of the city and driving off in the stolen cars. The attempted theft of the fifth victim's car was thwarted by the vehicle's security features.

Three of the drivers, who have asked for their names to be withheld for their own safety, have filed formal complaints at the Jalisco Attorney General's office, Uber said. None of the victims suffered serious injuries.

Uber issued a statement on Thursday denouncing the "cowardly act intended to intimidate those who make an honest living."

The San Francisco-based company offered to "collaborate with the investigators to bring those responsible to justice," and vowed to provide the victims with legal support. "We trust that the authorities will act diligently to guarantee the security of everyone: citizens, users and drivers," Uber added.

This was the latest in a string of recent attacks on Uber drivers across Guadalajara and Mexico City.

Related: Video Shows Mob of Cabbies Attacking Uber Vehicles in Mexico City

Video from Mexico's La Jornada shows an angry crowd attacking Uber vehicles.

Many taxi drivers are angry that Uber drivers are taking business away from them without being subject to the same regulations and tax requirements. "Up until now, no one has been killed but if the authorities don't do something then this could happen," Francisco Robles, a driver from Guadalajara's Sitio 26 taxi rank, told VICE News.

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Robles lamented that aggressions carried out by "a small group" are damaging the image of all taxi drivers in the city. He called on the authorities to introduce clear regulations to end the dispute before it gets even worse.

Other taxi drivers were less sympathetic. Pedro, from Guadalajara's Sitio 115, told VICE News that Uber drivers are operating illegally and should be banned altogether. He conceded that the recent attacks were "bad," but insisted they were the result of growing desperation among taxi drivers.

"Uber is affecting us a lot. They're taking the food off our table," he said. "I've been working for 23 years but there are people who have been taxi drivers for 50 years, people who are old, who won't find work anywhere else."

Related: Battle Over Uber in Mexico City Shows World's Largest Taxi Fleet Is in Dire Need of Reform

The frequency and intensity of the threats and aggressions against Uber drivers has intensified in Guadalajara in recent weeks.

In a viral Facebook post shared over 14,000 times, Jazmin Rivera said she was confronted by taxi drivers who mistook her boyfriend for an Uber driver outside Guadalajara's Nueva Central bus station on July 29.

Wielding rocks and gasoline containers, the aggressors threatened to smash up the car and set it on fire, although the couple eventually escaped unharmed, Rivera said.

'Uber is affecting us a lot. They're taking the food off our table.'

In another incident on July 30, Belem del Angel Muñoz said he had to pretend that his Uber driver was his brother after they were accosted by a group of taxi drivers. Del Angel described the taxi drivers' conduct as "intolerable" after they threatened to beat the chauffeur outside the Sitio 29 taxi rank in Guadalajara's upmarket Providencia neighborhood.

The following day, 34 Uber drivers fromally denounced threats they had received from taxi drivers near the Guadalajara airport. The next evening, on August 1, a female teacher suffered bruises and sprains, while her male companion was left with a broken nose after being assaulted by Guadalajara taxi drivers who mistook her for an Uber driver.

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Jalisco Governor Aristoteles Sandoval said on Friday that those responsible for the attack would be apprehended.

The rise in violence comes amid growing uncertainty about the Jalisco state government's stance on Uber.

In late July reports circulated that Jalisco's Secretariat of Transport had detained at least 12 Uber vehicles for operating without permission. In the past week, labor unions have called for an outright ban on Uber in Guadalajara, while officials within the Secretariat of Transport have reportedly advocated a freeze on the registration of new Uber drivers.

Related: Uber's Phantom Cabs

On August 4, Uber voiced concerns that the Jalisco government was considering banning UberX — the company's lowest cost service — in Guadalajara ."Not one of the dozens of cities that have regulated Uber, including megalopolises like New York and Mexico City, have taken decisions like that which Guadalajara appears to be contemplating," Uber stated.

Uber called for "intelligent regulation" in Guadalajara, Mexico's second-largest city, where it claims to serve nearly 200,000 customers, and urged the authorities to take citizens' interests into account. More than 72,000 people have signed a Change.org petition calling for Uber to stay in Guadalajara.

"We're fed up of the abuses and bad service from a minority group of taxi drivers, who today want to impose themselves and take away our freedom to decide how we want to move across our city," the petition stated.

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Jalisco's Secretariat of Transport did not respond to repeated requests by VICE News to clarify its position on Uber.

Officials in Jalisco frequently refer to Guadalajara as "Mexico's Silicon Valley" or "the capital of innovation."

Yet Uber has received little or no public backing from local government — despite its willingness to pay taxes in Jalisco, and its suggestion that the state government use that revenue to improve public transport.

"We can only laugh when people say Guadalajara is 'Mexico's Silicon Valley,'" local resident Fernanda Dudette wrote on Twitter. Banning UberX would take the city "back to the Middle Ages," she added.

Related: How Hackers Can Crack People's Uber Accounts to Sell on the Dark Web

Jaime Reyes Robles, Jalisco's Secretary for Innovation, Science and Technology, told VICE News he could not neither confirm nor rule out a ban of UberX in Guadalajara.This is a "political issue" to be decided by other state government bodies, Reyes said.

Reyes added that his department has been working to provide local taxi firms with technological solutions that would allow them to compete with Uber on a more even footing.

"We've had several meetings with them to show them the digital platforms that exist in the market and to offer them training as well," he said.

Follow Duncan Tucker on Twitter: @DuncanTucker

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