Murder of foreign surfers: not even tourism is safe from violence experienced in Baja California

Baja California is being hit by a wave of violence, with the fishing industry being one of the most affected by extortion and illegal taxing

On April 27, Australian brothers Jake and Callum Robinson, who were 30 and 33 years old, alongside their American friend, 30-year-old Jack Carter Rhoad, were reported as missing during a trip in the coasts of Santo Tomas in Ensenada.

The three surfers were put in a difficult situation when a group of assailants tried to steal their truck. According to the State's Attorney General Office (FGE), the young foreigners were murdered with a firearm after resisting the crime.

During the search carried out by authorities, the burned-out truck, abandoned tents, and one of the surfer's cellphones were found.

The bodies were found in a 4-meter deep well, approximately 6 kilometers away from the place where the killings occurred. It should be noted that a fourth body was found in the area, which is not related to the case, but it does put into question whether there are organized criminal groups working in this area.

Was organized crime responsible for the killing of the three murdered surfers in Ensenada?

The murder of the three foreigners in the city of Ensenada has resonated around the world, especially in Australia, where brothers Jake and Callum Robinson were born.

A lot has to do with the fact that this is not the first time that a group of tourists has been victim of a wave of violence hitting the country. In 2016, Australian surfers Dean Lucas and Adam Coleman were killed in Sinaloa, which has also been called a "red area" due to presence of criminal groups.

So far, the preliminary investigation by FGE has presented the crime as an isolated case that is not connected with drug trafficking cartels. But what have authorities said so far?

In the evening of May 1, Jesús ‘N’, aka ‘El Kekas’, his partner Gisel ‘N’ and his brother Cristian ‘N’ were arrested. The three individuals were in possession of several drugs and were carrying one of the surfers' cellphones, which is why an investigation was opened against them for the crime of forced disappearance.

According to reports that were made during the press conference made by FGE last Sunday, May 5, the people arrested had already a history of illegal taxing and car theft in Ensenada's southern area, with protection from the municipal police of the area.

So far, a penal process has been opened for Jesús aka "El Kekas"; the other two people are currently under investigation.

Surfers in land occupied by drug traffickers

According to data by INEGI, Rosarito, Tijuana, Mexicali, Ensenada, and Tecate are in the top 5 nationwide on car thefts.

In addition, Baja California is showing high crime rates which have increased since 2018, according to the National System of Public Security. It is estimated that, so far in 2024, there have been 559 homicides in the state.

Right now, in Baja California there are 3 organized criminal groups. The coastal zone of Ensenada, including the cargo port, is mainly controlled by cells from the Sinaloa cartel.

That's why the case looks less like a car theft, and more like a several murders that have been carried out by criminal groups against people who enter into their territory, which makes it clear that not even tourism is safe from the violence and impunity experienced in Baja California.

A testimony shared anonymously by outlet San Diego Red said how some of the criminal groups have been extorting and illegally taxing fishermen in the city of Ensenada, one of the most vulnerable industries during this wave of violence.

Due to what happened to these three murdered surfers in Baja California, the community has been nervous, and have even chosen to avoid certain coasts in the peninsula to prevent any type of incident.

They have taken several security measures such as visiting places that are mostly crowded, coming in large parties, and avoiding areas such as San Quintin and Santo Tomas, as this is the last area where the bodies of the Robinson brothers and Carter Rhoad were found.

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Is it safe to visit Baja California as a tourist?

Ensenada continues to be a great tourism attraction, mainly for California residents due to its ideal surfing conditions.

However, the state has been dealing with an increase in violence, mainly attributed to the territory wars among local criminal groups. In 2023, the state recorded the 2nd highest homicide rate in Mexico, only below Guanajuato.

The Secretary of National Defense, Luis Cresencio Sandoval, pointed out early this year that between 85% and 90% of murders in the state are related to drug trafficking and organized crime.

In 2022, Mexico was the most visited country by American tourists, with more than 30 million visitors. However, that year, 46 US tourists were victims of homicide. On a Facebook group called "Talk Baja" questions regarding crime in the state have been increasing.

Surf community pays tribute to murdered surfers

In Ensenada, dozens of protestors, many of them from the surfer community, marched in the city demanding safer beaches and expressing their solidarity with the victims.

They even paid tribute to the surfers by getting into the sea with their surfboards, throwing flowers, and saying goodbye in an emotional manner.

While the community mourns this incident, investigations continue but questions persist regarding security and the impact of organized crime for the tourist industry in Baja California.

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