The Unbearable Violence of the Surfers’ Murder in Mexico

Two Australian surfers and their American friend were reported missing in Mexico this week. On Friday in Mexico, state authorities reported finding three dead bodies near the site where the men were known to be camping.

The bodies have not yet been identified. A burned out car was found near the scene of the crime.

The three men – brothers Jake and Callum Robinson and friend Jack Rhoad – had been driving south down the coast of the Mexican state of Baja California. They were camping and surfing along the way, but when they didn’t arrive for some pre-booked accommodation, the alarm was raised.

Though not as lawless as Guerrero or Sinaloa, Baja California is a significant staging zone for narcotics traffic, with its border with the US and abundant coastline. The district where the bodies and burnt out car were found, Playas de Rosarito, is the most dangerous district in the state.

Playas de Rosarito, Baja California, Mexico.

Mexicans have been living with extreme narco-violence for over a decade now. Over 30,000 homicides were officially recorded in Mexico in 2023 and 242,000 in the past 10 years. Yet as there are some 104,000 people on record as missing in Mexico, some have suggested the true figures are even higher.

While the figures sound completely untenable and unsustainable, human beings are adaptable creatures and we use narratives to make life bearable. “The violence is between narcos,” people in Latin America like to say. “If you stay out of their way and out of the wrong neighbourhoods, you will be fine.”

With this comforting thought in mind, the upper and middle classes have retreated behind walls. One analysis found Mexico spending us $15.6 billion on private security per year. Central American countries including Honduras and Guatemala have five times as many security guards as police officers. Meanwhile in poor neighbourhoods, 1 in 50 men die violently before their 31st birthday.

But imagining the problem will always follow some logic of cartel politics is wishful thinking. Violence is a tool of power, but it also breeds more violence, and becomes tolerable not just to society as a whole but to those who would perpetuate it. That’s why the death of three joy-seeking tourists feels is shocking: the illogicality, the senselessness, breaks through the narratives we use to contain it and to comfort ourselves.

Article image courtesy @joceline and thumbnail image courtesy @amyjoyhumphries via Unsplash.

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