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Federal prosecutor could intervene in taxi protests against Uber

By on December 16, 2016

SAN JUAN – U.S. Attorney Rosa Emilia Rodríguez said Thursday that the office could have filed federal charges against the dozens of taxi drivers who blocked part of the Dos Hermanos bridge and prevented people from getting into the old city while they protested Uber’s operations on the island.

The federal official explained that by blocking access, taxi drivers incurred in a violation of Title 18 of the United States Code, Section 1951, which states it is a crime to interfere with interstate commerce through force, violence or intimidation.

However, Rodríguez explained that U.S. Attorney’s Office has not intervened in the clashes between taxi drivers and Uber in deference to local authorities, but did not rule out getting involved in the case.

“Last Saturday we did not do it because there is a thing called courtesy toward the Police and the Department of Justice. In this instance [local] state has primary jurisdiction, but we could take over jurisdiction depending on specific facts,” Rodríguez explained while describing the incident as regrettable.

“To intervene in an…occurrence where there is violence at the time, that is a matter for the police. We do not have agents to go there, unless there is a particular set of circumstances and we have been asked for federal agents to [lend] support in an emergency, but that almost never happens,” she added.

The federal official said that the Puerto Rico Police are fully qualified to deal with such situations, but pointed out that she pays attention to the dispute’s incidents and explained she cannot assure that she will deal with taxi drivers if they insist on continuing to hold demonstrations that affect interstate commerce.

“I cannot and I do not want to say that we will deal with them and process them. We never notify what we are going to do and we are not going to begin doing that now. But we are able to take over jurisdiction.”

José Capó, head of the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s Criminal Division, explained that interfering with interstate commerce is defined as an interruption of said commerce through theft, extortion, limitation, impediment, intimidation or some other way in which trade may be affected, although he explained that it is up to local authorities to intervene during an event.

“The U.S. Attorney processes the cases, assists in the investigation, submits them to a grand jury and processes them in court. [Local] state investigative agencies like the Police must investigate out on the street, conduct interviews and handle this type of investigation. Once we are presented with a case, we decide whether it is filed in court or not according to the evidence,” he said.

Last Saturday, a group of taxi drivers blocked the entrance to Old San Juan, causing chaos in local traffic that lasted for several hours. The protest was made in reaction to Uber’s alleged violation of Act 282 or the Ground Tourism Transportation Act, which prohibits unauthorized drivers from picking up passengers in areas that have been designated as tourist destinations.

Protestors demonstrate against Uber at the San Juan Capitol on May 3. (CB Photo/ Dennis Costa)

Protestors demonstrate against Uber at the San Juan Capitol on May 3. (CB Photo/ Dennis Costa)

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