TIJUANA (Border Report) — Rubén Celis says he lost his only source of income when a drug cartel pulled over his driver and torched his small shuttle during a weekend of chaos 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 it all burnt.”
Celis described what happened when armed men got into the shuttle last Friday.
“They told all the passengers to unload, the driver too, then they poured gasoline inside and set it on fire, luckily no one got hurt,” he said.
Celis says he had an insurance policy for the driver, but it won’t cover damages to his shuttle or a replacement.
He said he would need about $3,500 to secure another vehicle to stay in business — money he doesn’t have.
“I only made 800 pesos, ($40) per day,” he said.
Police say the cartel arsonists set fire to dozens of vehicles and most were shuttle taxis like the one owned by Celis.
These units provide public transportation for tens of thousands of people throughout the city on a daily basis.
“Drivers are in fear, our bosses are in fear,” driver Joaquin Baltazar said. “It’s not just about losing one of our vehicles, it’s about one of our coworkers getting hurt.”
Baltazar told Border Report he was driving a shuttle when he, too, was approached by men holding weapons.
“They took us all out of the vehicle, they were pointing guns at us. No one got hurt, but psychologically, we are all scarred for life,” he said. “We have lost our peace of mind.”
Baltazar said he will keep driving even though it won’t be the same for him and other drivers.
“Imagine now going out into the streets and risking our lives in a city that was already extremely violent.”
In the meantime, Mexico’s President Andrés Manuel López Obrador arrived in Tijuana to talk about what happened to Baltazar, Celis, other drivers, and to get an overall picture of the violence that occurred in Northern Baja California last weekend.
He met with Tijuana Mayor Montserrat Caballero and Baja Gov. Marina del Pilar Ávila for security roundtable.
The president said what took place were “acts of vandalism with a hint of propaganda.”
López Obrador insisted the violence was meant as a way to generate publicity and attention by a drug cartel.
“The vandalism was done to create a national scandal and generate propaganda from the media that would reach abroad,” Loez Obrador said.
He said security forces now in place around the state are generating “positive results.”
He pointed out that 14,000 national guard troops have been sent to Tijuana and Northern Baja California in recent months.