The killings of 13 Mexican taxi drivers in separate attacks this week underlined the vulnerability of a loosely regulated trade where workers are being threatened or used by drug gangs.
Eight drivers of unregistered taxis were shot dead on Tuesday in the northern state of Nuevo Leon, a hotspot in a wave of violence blamed on warring drug gangs which has left more than 50,000 dead nationwide in five years.
A split between the Gulf drug gang and its former enforcers the Zetas is blamed for the sharp rise in violence in the region.
“Each gang has strengthened its ranks with this group of workers [taxi drivers], who serve many purposes,” said an official from the Nuevo Leon state investigation agency, requesting anonymity.
The gangs use “hawks” — spies who are usually teenagers — on the streets and drug dealers as well as taxi drivers, he said.
“They use them as lookouts because they know the area and drive around without raising suspicion, to deal drugs and also to back up activities such as kidnappings, assaults and robberies,” the official added.
An armed gang traveling in at least two vehicles killed eight taxi drivers and injured two others in attacks on two taxi ranks in the town of Guadalupe, on the outskirts of Monterrey, the capital of Nuevo Leon, on Tuesday.
The killings made a total of 23 taxi drivers killed in the metropolitan area of Monterrey since May last year.
The legendary resort city of Acapulco, on the Pacific coast, has also seen attacks on taxi drivers rise alongside gangland-style killings in recent years.
Acapulco police on Monday found seven bodies, including those of five taxi drivers, in a vehicle abandoned after being involved in a car chase with police.
Drug gangs sometimes threaten taxi drivers to get them to sign up while others who are killed have no known links to organized crime.
“We’re experiencing a struggle between criminal groups and taxi drivers who are, unfortunately, very vulnerable to this dynamic because, even if some are shown to be involved in crimes, many of them work under threat or are innocent victims,” said Cesar Garza, president of the Security Commission of the Nuevo Leon Congress.
Traffic police and other officers recently experienced a similar wave of attacks in the region, but local authorities managed to clamp down by purging their ranks, Garza said.
“Authorities have now strengthened control and it’s more difficult to infiltrate these corporations,” Garza said, suggesting that taxi drivers denounce criminal groups and cooperate with the authorities.