Wednesday, January 04, 2012

death in the family


My village is in turmoil.  There has been a murder in the family.


Whenever violence visits, facts get a bit muddled.  There are plenty of rumors, but this much is generally accepted as being factual.


Robin Wood was a 67-year old Canadian from Salt Spring Island – one of the spots my sailing buddies and I visit during our summer excursions to British Columbia.  He came south to vacation with a Canadian realtor.


Two young men came over the roof of the realtor’s home in Villa Obregon.  They appeared to be intent on robbery, other than mere burglary, because one arrived armed with a pistol.


One robber grabbed a bag.  Mr. Wood resisted.  The armed robber shot him.  Mr. Wood died before his host could get him to the hospital in Cihuatlán – about 15 minutes away. 


A very sad tale (undoubtedly, where we know little of what actually happened).  And one that could – and does – happen in large and small towns around the world.


I have been monitoring the reaction of the tourist and expatriate communities on the Melaque electronic message board – TomZap.  And I am a bit surprised at what I have been reading.


There are the usual (and appropriate) sympathy wishes for Mr. Wood’s family.  But those entries are dwarfed by the number of people who say they are evacuating Melaque because of the incident.


At times like these, logic is not a sought handmaiden.  As far as I know, very few people talked about shunning Melaque when three young men died during the past three years in allegedly drug-related assassinations.  Or when any of the local love triangle murders happened.


The difference, of course, is the unstated.  Those deaths involved locals.  This death was one of us.


And I am not talking about skin color.  I will leave that topic for someone who wants to beat the tom-tom of tribalism that lurks in some of the TomZap posts.


For too long, visitors to Melaque have idealized it as a paradise.  It isn’t.  If it is Eden, the serpent of reality has long been coiled there.


Part of that reality is that a small portion of the local community, just like any community, is composed of thieves.  The bars on our windows and doors are not merely quaint architectural artifacts of the Spanish occupation.


To our neighbors, we are part of the world’s wealthy ruling class.  With our bottomless ATM accounts, fancy computers, and café lifestyles.  To the thieves, we are targets as lucrative as any Mexican CEO.


Does that make this murder is our fault?  Of course, not.  We will undoubtedly eventually discover some fact that results in an aha moment.  There is simply a risk that comes along with our worship of material goods.


Unfortunately, for Robin Wood, he evidenced that love far too clearly when he reflexively (but not reflectively) grabbed for a bag that was no longer his.  And paid for it with his life.


I hope the murderers are caught.  I hope justice is done.  But leaving Melaque will not accomplish any of those ends.


I am not leaving.  In fact, I will soon be flying back home to Melaque in a few days.  And I intend to bring as many people as I can.
     

55 comments:

D Simon said...

My husband and I agree with Steve's sentiments on this issue.  We have lived in every neighborhood of Melaque, for 1/2 of each year, for the last 16 years and have no intentions of running away from it.  The death of any person is always strongly felt here, and the fact that it was a foreigner this time does not lessen the sadness for the people of this pueblo.  The Canadian press is reporting that Police Director Hernandez Bonilla made the statement that this type of crime is common in this area.  I am hoping that it lost something (like the word "not") in the translation, as violent crime here is far below the stats for almost any place, big or small, that we call home north of the border(s).

No one "asks" to be robbed, shot or killed, but this is a good time to remind ourselves that we shouldn't display laptops, wads of cash, fancy jewelry, etc. when we travel or vacation.. and that Melaque and all of Mexico have the commonsense tradition of barred windows, glass-topped walls and other burglary deterrents for a reason... at the least we should all know to secure windows and lock doors and to be aware of our surroundings.  Melaque is a wonderful, caring, as-safe-as-any-place-else place to vacation or spend time. 

Steve Cotton said...

Well said.  Everything I like about Melaque is still there.  We merely need to live wisely.

brenda said...

Everyday all over the world events like this happen.  No matter where or how it happens it is always sad for the family, friends and the entire community.
Leaving the community because of something like this, to me, is rather crazy.  You can't run away from life, it will find you no matter where you go, there is no where in the world that is crime free.
Although I do not know the community itself, I also thought that the news report using the word "common" for this type of event was rather far fetched and agree that something was probably lost in the translation.
My thoughts are with the community as they grieve.

Ewa Platt said...

The people who are shunning Melaque and Mexico have had a rose coloured view of Mexico,, friendly natives, sleepy village , Their view of that world has been shattered and no logical explanation will change their mind, I, like you, will be back in Mexico in a short while as Mexico is my home now and, like you, I will take the good with the bad there. My holiday away has only made me more aware of all the good things  and people that make up my life in Mexico

Peanut said...

I have to disagree, we were planning on heading to this area later in the month. Now, we will politely tell the hotel owner we will not be staying as our safety may be in question. This sends a very direct message to the business owners who will put pressure on the local police to ensure Barra, Melaque and LaManz are all as safe as they were 15 years ago. It may be a bit painful in the short term, but in the long run everyone will benefit. From hotel and restaurant owners to taxi drivers and all local citizens have a stake in pressuring the lax police to clean up these 3 towns.

I always had the impression that serious crime rarely happened to tourists, i figured it was drug and gang related. Not so.

Steve Cotton said...

The :common" comment also surprised me.  I suspect that a "not" was left out or it merely fed into a reporter's prejudice and ignorance.

The good news is that the tourist community is now trying to take action to make the community safer.


And thank you for the original link.

Steve Cotton said...

I have enjoyed every place I have lived.  My visit to Oregon has been very pleasant.  But I am ready to head south again.

Steve Cotton said...

I am sorry to hear you will not be coming down. Giving in to fear shrinks our lives. No community is free from crime. Even in Salem people die in armed robberies. But it does not keep me from visiting here.

Banff57 said...

Actually, Saltspring Island is free from crime of this sort.  Most people don't lock their door at night.   There was a murder on a nearby island recently (not a random robbery but somewhat targetted) and the response was a police SWAT team and helicopter, all cars going off the island searched until the perp was caught.  People who live in such places probably have an unrealistic expectation of personal security, but as you say, they need to be aware of the risks if they are going to live in Mexico

Steve Cotton said...

Saltspring is one of the exceptions, of course. But I thought Talent, Oregon also fell in that category until this year when three murders took place on one weekend. I would hate to think of crimes like that in the gulf islands.

Joanne said...

We live in Yucatan which is quite safe.  We also own a condo in Costa Rica.  While at the condo in May we experienced a home invasion and robbery.  There was no problem letting them take what ever they wanted.  None of us attempted to keep any of our things, we just let them go.  But we were robbed due to mistaken identity, they were actually looking for someone who was on the run from unsavory business partners.  We unfortunately had the same car, same colour as the intended target.    I always wonder what would have been said of us had they shot us.  I am sure that someone would have said we were obviously involved in something illegal.  And so when some explanation is offered up on a platter for this sort of thing, I take it with a grain of salt.  Sometimes it is simply a matter of being in the wrong place, wrong time.

Steve Cotton said...

That is why I do not speculate.  Families who lose loved ones do not need that sort of thing.

Ewa Platt said...

the Vancouver Sun has said that Mexican police have identified the man who shot  Robin Wood but no arrest has been made.

John said...

http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2012/01/04/bc-mexico-death.html

Of course there are robberies and subsequent murders everywhere - but when it is in your small community it does shake people up - understandably.

We saw the story on Puerto Tom Zap. A friend I met here 5 years ago (Puerto Escondido) was BADLY beaten and robbed on his way down here 5 days ago. He was near Ciadad Victoria in northern Mexico.

My friend is 63 and could easily have been killed from the looks of his face and head - he was really pummeled.

Sadly I think the economy is having an effect on people. Some become desperate.

My friend was sleeping on the side of the road in a dark area. NOT something to do these days. Spend the money to get a hotel room with a place to lock your car (fenced area).

Steve Cotton said...

I have heard that.  It will be interesting to see how things develop.

Steve Cotton said...

Mexico's economy is actually doing well.  3.5% growth -- a level Canada and The States can only kust after.  Of course, when 40% of the population is still in the lower income group, that type of growth appears mythical.

brenda said...

Hopefully the whole community will become closer and pull together to help everyone get through this anxious time.
To the person who wants to "pressure" the police to make the place as safe as it was 15 yrs. ago, where on this earth is the place that is as safe now as it was 15 yrs. ago?   

June Nery said...

The discussion continues here in La Manzanilla as well.  It's difficult the know what to do at this point.  As a family we are weighing the pros and cons of remaining...

Mary Lou Halbach said...

I would not do that in the city of Fort Worth, Texas, either.  While it is tragic that your friend has suffered so, one has to realize that vacation does not mean you can let your guard down, as it so often does.  Tourists from Germany years ago were chased and murdered on one of the interstate highways of Florida, but that did not affect their tourism.  If it happens in Mexico everyone nods their head and acts like it is expected.  Simply not so. I was assaulted and robbed right in front of a Burger King with my 8 year old son next to me in 1988, and that was in in the best part of town and less than a half mile from my home.  Through the history of time the world has never been a safe place, period.

Tancho said...

Sad to see stuff like this happening, but one has to realize that no place is immune from possibilities like this. One should always be vigilant of there surroundings and always be aware of their own security. When push comes to shove, no one except yourself is responsible for that.
People that think life is peachy down here in Mexico who want to deny reality should possibly stay were they are.
Moving or boycotting tourism doesn't necessarily send the message of them to control local crime. Mexico is what it is......

Mary Lou Halbach said...

Well done, Steve!

Steve Cotton said...

But we go on -- living life big.

Steve Cotton said...

I hope you stay.

Steve Cotton said...

Thanks.

Steve Cotton said...

And trying to turn it into what it is not will only result in frustration.

Don Cuevas said...

Well said, Steve.

Saludos,Don Cuevas 

Kim G said...

To Peanut, and I say this in all respect, your line of thinking is rather naive. Violence all over Mexico has already decimated the tourist industry. Do you really think all those hotel owners, travel agents, tour operators, waiters, mariachis, busboys, bartenders, et al aren't already pressuring the authorities about the problem of violence? You think they don't already care deeply?

Sadly, and I say this as someone who speaks fluent Spanish and only hangs out with Mexicans in Mexico and stays in their homes when there, the problem is rather systemic, the nature of which is beyond the scope of this comment. But anyone who visits Mexico needs to be careful and accept the risks. If you want a really safe tropical holiday you need to go to Hawaii and pay up.

Also, it really bears repeating. Anyone of us who has the luxury of foreign travel or residence is rich. We might not think so, but we really are. And as such we are also almost completely clueless about the difficulties the average Mexican faces simply to just make ends meet. Do not underestimate the level of desperation out there.

Also do not make the assumption that any robber/assailant is rational. He's not. He's desperate, scared, and quite likely drunk, or high on some drug. You cannot negotiate with such a person. Just give him what he wants and hope for the best. By saying this I do not in any way condone or forgive criminal behavior, but it is in the best interests of any visitor to keep the above in mind. These criminals don't want your family photos, so anything they take can be easily replaced, except for your life.

I love Mexico dearly, but I have no illusions about what it really is.

Kim G
DF, Mexico
For a couple days longer.

Eric Chaffee said...

Here's an excellent essay on confronting threats of violence:

http://www.samharris.org/blog/item/the-truth-about-violence/

~eric.

Paty said...

By using deductive reasoning I have concluded the following after living full-time in Mexico for over 6 years--

For those who are afraid of the naro-violence:  This type of violence is not directed primarily at gringos but rather other gang/mob members or those who have something to do with drugs.  If you don't fit into those categories, you are relatively safe in Mexico.For those of you who are afraid of being killed in a home invasion/random violence:  You are not safe ANYWHERE in the world so you might as well be where the weather is favorable, the people interesting and friendly and the food is fresh and plentiful.

Darrel Cotton said...

The same article was posted on CBCNews with an attached graph from Ther Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. 4 Million Canadians visited Mexico in the last 5 years and 15 have been murdered. There were 199 murders in New Orleans last year (a city of 344,000). I don't know how many were Canadian.

http://www.cbc.ca/news/world/story/2012/01/04/bc-mexico-death.html

Steve Cotton said...

I see you have been dining with the handmaiden of logic.

Steve Cotton said...

Thank you, sir.

Steve Cotton said...

Nicely put.  Even though I am somewhat agnostic on the food issue.

Steve Cotton said...

As always, well said.

S Parks said...

A calmer discussion than the local message board but maybe because there is 'moderation' here.   The Canadian news is like any other .... be first to publish and facts be damned.

Can't say how sad this is for the family and community ... but life will go on.  Robberies/house invasions are common here but murders are not ... especially involving tourists.  I won't be moving soon.

Steve Cotton said...

I was going to link to the TomZap poage.  And then thought better of it.  The discussion here is a bit more sedate.

Kim G said...

Excellent article. Thanks.

visitor-Villa Obregon said...

You might adjust your comment about "material possessions". It seems that Robin may have been trying to regain his identity documents.

Steve Cotton said...

I suppose that is a more specific description of the same category.

Darvind said...

As I said in an earlier comment, this is not a fair statement and should be reconsidered: "There is simply a risk that comes along with our worship of material goods.
Unfortunately, for Robin Wood, he evidenced that love far too clearly when he reflexively (but not reflectively) grabbed for a bag that was no longer his.  And paid for it with his life."

Steve Cotton said...

Fair? I am not certain of that. But it accurately reflects my opinion. Identification is just a thing.

Rick said...

My dad Bruce Turriff spent over 25 winters there until he passed away a few yeara ago. He loved Melaque and always felt safe.

Steve Cotton said...

And I still feel as safe there as I do in Salem.

janarntorp said...

Very well said, Steve. As a regular Tomzap lurker - and sometime poster - I have many times skipped over to your site and enjoyed your missives from our wacky little town. I recently accepted the challange of a friend and started my own blog, and after having written a few posts during our last trip, and then seen my production dwindle significantly once I returned home to BC, I am now, more than ever, in awe of the dedication that it takes to continue writing on a regular basis.
To date, I haven't read all of your posts, but I am slowly making my way through them, and I just wanted to stop by and mention how much I have enjoyed them and give you a hearty, "Keep up the good work!" Well done, and thanks for your previous work, and in particular for this last, well thought out post.
Jan

Steve Cotton said...

Thanks, Jan.  Fior all of the work that goes into writing these vignettes, I do enjoy it.  I am glad you do, as well.

Ross family said...

My husband and I have spent the last 14 Christmas seasons in San Patricio/Melaque and never once felt threatened.  We wear Mexican clothes, leave all jewellery, watches and high tech gadgets behind and live very simply trying to speak Spanish and being part of the community.    We will not abandon Melaque although will be very happy to see the thieves captured and given appropriate punishment.  

Steve Cotton said...

Being part of the community is the trick. I still need to work on some of those items myself. The computer being tops on that list.

Holger Sood said...

"This sends a very direct message to the business owners who will put
pressure on the local police to ensure Barra, Melaque and LaManz are all
as safe as they were 15 years ago. It may be a bit painful in the short
term, but in the long run everyone will benefit."

That may work in North Korea or Saudi Arabia, but not in MX (neither in the USA or any more or less "liberal" country) - what kind of "pressure" should that business owners put to the policemen, and what do you think about the "counter-pressure" set to the police by criminals...?

Are you also concerned about your security in the USA, with millions of firearms spread over the whole country, in the hands of criminals as well as religious fanatics or dumb hillbillies?

Steve Cotton said...

I think you will find that most of my tourist neighbors who are talking f leaving are Canadian. But that is only because it is primarily a Canadian tourist destination.

Juan said...

I am an Oregonian that just returned from Melaque and loved every second even though my sunglasses are NOT rose colored

Steve Cotton said...

The only way to see Mexico is realistically. Melaque has its good and bad sides. But I like the place.

Felipe Zapata said...

I was in Mexico City and offline when this post appeared. I come here today and see, zounds!, over half a hundred comments.

Steve Cotton said...

It is a topic people really care about. And a month after writing it, I am still here -- and alive.

Juan said...

According to a brief note in "Informador" (http://bit.ly/zvcuIe), a newspaper in Guadalajara, the crime has been solved and two of the three people involved have been arrested. I hope these are the right guys and, as Steve has said, justice is done.  

Steve Cotton said...

approved