TIJUANA (border report) – Rubén Celis says he lost his only source of income when a drug cartel arrested his driver and set his little shuttle on fire during a weekend of mayhem and mayhem across Tijuana and northern Baja California.
“My unit is a total loss,” Celis said in Spanish. “I felt great sadness when I saw everything burning.”
Celis described what happened when armed men entered the shuttle last Friday.
“They told all the passengers to disembark, the driver too, then they poured petrol inside and set it on fire, luckily no one was hurt,” he said.
Celis says he had an insurance policy for the driver, but it won’t cover damage to his shuttle or a replacement.
He said he would need about $3,500 to get another vehicle to stay in business – money he doesn’t have.
“I was only earning 800 pesos ($40) a day,” he said.
According to police, cartel arsonists torched dozens of vehicles and most were shuttle taxis like the one belonging to Celis.
These units provide daily public transport for tens of thousands of people throughout the city.
“Drivers are scared, our bosses are scared,” said driver Joaquin Baltazar. “It’s not just about losing one of our vehicles, it’s about injuring one of our colleagues.”
Baltazar told Border Report he was driving a shuttle when he was also approached by gunmen.
“They took us all out of the vehicle, they were pointing guns at us. No one was hurt, but psychologically we are all scarred for life,” he said. “We lost our peace of mind.”
Baltazar said he would continue driving even though it wouldn’t be the same for him and the other drivers.
“Now imagine going out on the streets and risking our lives in a city that was already extremely violent.”
Meanwhile, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador arrived in Tijuana to talk about what happened to Baltazar, Celis, other drivers and to get an overview of the violence that happened in the north from Baja California this past weekend.
He met with Mayor of Tijuana Montserrat Caballero and Baja Gov. Marina del Pilar Ávila for the round table on security.
The president said what happened was “acts of vandalism with a hint of propaganda”.
López Obrador insisted that the violence was intended as a way to generate publicity and attention by a drug cartel.
“The vandalism was committed to create a national scandal and generate media propaganda that would reach abroad,” Loez Obrador said.
He said the security forces now in place around the state are generating “positive results”.
He pointed out that 14,000 National Guard soldiers have been sent to Tijuana and northern Baja California in recent months.
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