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A bus burns on Friday in Petatlán, Guerrero. A bus burns on Friday in Petatlán, Guerrero.

Transportation services suspended in Zihuatanejo after vehicles burned

Operators are victims of extortion attempts

Transportation services were suspended on Saturday and Sunday in the Guerrero municipalities of Zihuatanejo and Petatlán after three passenger vans and several other vehicles were set alight on Friday.

Zihuatanejo drivers who provide transportation to local neighborhoods and the hotel zone said they wouldn’t resume services until authorities can guarantee their safety.

After a meeting between transportation leaders and local authorities on Sunday, the latter said that an agreement was struck to reestablish services.

The Zihuatanejo drivers and their counterparts in neighboring Petatlán say they are being threatened by criminal groups that demand extortion payments.

Three Nissan vans used as public transit were burned on Friday night in three separate incidents in Zihuatanejo.

The first occurred on the Paseo de Zihuatanejo boulevard at about 6:00pm. Armed men stopped the van and forced the driver and passengers to get out before setting it on fire. As it burned, the vehicle rolled down a hill until it crashed into a compact car that also caught fire.

A second van was set alight on Colegio Militar avenue an hour later after which another van was burned in the neighborhood of Fragatas, the newspaper El Universal reported.

Earlier on Friday, a group of about 300 people blocked the Acapulco-Zihuatanejo highway in Petatlán to demand that state police – who they claimed have committed abuses – withdraw from their communities.

According to the state government, the people were forced to participate in the blockade by the criminal gang Guardia Guerrerense, which authorities say operates in both Zihuatanejo and Petatlán.

After federal and state police moved the people on, seven vehicles were set on fire on the highway, including three buses, a trailer and a delivery truck.

Zihuatanejo business owners are urging the federal government to intervene and end the violence that plagues the municipality as well as neighboring Petatlán, La Unión and Coahuayutla.

“What we’re experiencing in Zihuatanejo and neighboring municipalities is nothing new, it’s entirely the fault of authorities that do nothing,” the head of a local company who asked not to be identified told the newspaper Reforma.

He said that business was slow in Zihuatanejo over the weekend because a lot of Day of the Dead tourists canceled their hotel reservations after hearing about the violence on Friday.

The businessman added that restaurant and hotel owners could join public transportation workers and stop work in order to pressure authorities to act.

“We can’t put up with it anymore; it’s urgent for the federal government to turn around now and look at us because the state and municipal governments are completely overwhelmed by crime,” he said.

“In the case that they ignore us, we’ll join . . . the work stoppage because this [situation] is now unsustainable.”

Business owners in the Costa Grande region stopped work for several days in November 2016 to demand greater security but extortion, threats, kidnappings and murders have continued, the business owner said. The son of a well-known businessman was shot dead on October 21 after leaving a gym in central Zihuatanejo.

The violence in and around Zihuatanejo could also pose a threat to international tourism. More than 150,000 Canadian tourists visit the area annually, many to escape cold winters at home, according to local tourism official Pedro Castelán Reina.

The winter holiday period for foreign visitors begins in November with the arrival of the first seasonal flights at the Ixtapa-Zihuatanejo International Airport, he said.

Castelán said there are now direct flights to the airport from nine Canadian cities and seven in the United States.

Before the violent events of Friday, he predicted that the winter period would be a successful one for local businesses that benefit from the influx of foreign visitors.

Source: El Universal (sp), Reforma (sp), Diario ABC (sp) 

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