Tourist killings expose fragmentation of organised crime at the heart of Mexico’s extraordinary violence

Last Updated: June 18, 2024By
Tragic Surfing Trip in Mexico Ends in Violence

The killings of Australian brothers Callum and Jake Robinson and their American friend Jack Carter Rhoad have shown the dangerous side of Mexico, a country that’s both a popular tourist spot and a place with serious violence issues.

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A Dream Trip Gone Wrong

In April, Callum, Jake, and Jack went missing in Baja California during a surfing trip. Sadly, they were found dead, each shot in the head. Mexican officials think they were attacked by thieves who wanted their car tires and killed them when they resisted.

The Arrests

The main suspect, Jesús Gerardo, known as “El Kekas”, is in custody. His girlfriend, who was also arrested, turned against him. She told the court that he confessed to the murders, gave her a phone, and showed her the stolen tires on her car.

Violence in Mexico

Mexico has been struggling with violence for years. In 2023, there were over 30,000 homicides for the sixth year in a row. More than 100,000 people are missing. Violence is worse in certain states like Baja California, especially in cities like Tijuana.

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Why Baja California?

Baja California has a lot of crime because it’s a hub for illegal activities. Tijuana, being a big border city, sees a lot of movement of people, goods, and money to and from the US. This makes it valuable for criminal groups. They also fight over other parts of the state, like the port in Ensenada, which is close to where the tourists were found. Drugs and chemicals for making synthetic drugs like fentanyl come through this port.

Crime and Chaos

Tijuana is a prime example of fragmented crime. No single group is in charge, leading to constant fights. The problem has worsened with the influx of US-made guns. According to Victoria Dittmar from Insight Crime, guns are easy to get in Mexico now.

Tourists Still Flock to Baja California

Despite the violence, tourists love Baja California for its beautiful beaches, waves, and wildlife. It’s surprising how rarely tourists are targeted, likely because criminals benefit from the tourism industry. They extort money from hotels, restaurants, and nightclubs, so they need tourists to keep coming.

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Hidden Dangers

Cecilia Farfán-Méndez from the University of California, San Diego, says tourists unknowingly support criminal enterprises. The fish you eat in a fancy restaurant might be part of a criminal network’s income.

A Dangerous World

Crime in Mexico isn’t perfectly organized. Many decisions are made by local criminals on the spot. According to Falko Ernst from Crisis Group, it’s a hyper-paranoid world. Being in the wrong place at the wrong time can be deadly.

Swift Justice?

The quick response to the surfers’ disappearance shows the authorities’ desire to calm fears and reassure tourists. Within days, three suspects were detained, and the bodies were found on remote ranch land. In a state where most murders go unsolved and many people are missing, this swift action is notable.

Crime and Corruption

The overlap between crime and the state in Mexico is significant. There’s a lot of corruption and collusion, with some security forces involved in criminal networks. But when there’s pressure from outside or economic interests are at risk, the Mexican state can act efficiently.

Who Gets Found?

There’s a sad reality about the victims in Mexico. Foreigners’ cases get more attention, and their remains are more likely to be found. But many missing Mexicans remain unfound, showing the grim tiers of victims in this violent landscape.

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