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Ximena Osegueda Memorial: Canadian Student Killed In Mexico Leaves Some Wondering About Tourist Safety

01/06/2012 04:27 EST | Updated 03/07/2012 05:12 EST
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MEXICO CITY - Friends of a University of British Columbia student killed in Mexico struggled to make sense of her death Friday, remembering her as a courageous, generous woman with a warm smile.

Ximena Osegueda and her boyfriend Alejandro Santamaria were discovered partially buried on a beach in Huatulco, south of Acapulco, by the woman's relatives. Both had been stabbed in the neck and set on fire, according to Mexican officials, and were identified through tattoos and moles.

Elisa Lipkau, a childhood friend of Osegueda's, said Friday that even as she organized a memorial, she was having trouble believing her friend was gone.

"She was brilliant, a very hard worker with a strong social conscience," Lipkau said in an interview from Mexico City.

"She was like my sister. I've felt her absence so deeply, I still hope it's not them because I'd love to see her again."

She said Osegueda, who was studying at UBC, took a very creative approach to her research into colonial Latin American literature, and was never one to shy away from a challenge. She spent seven years living in a village in the Mexican jungle as part of her investigation.

She was in Mexico gathering material for her PhD when she was disappeared.

Osegueda is the second Canadian to be killed in Mexico this week. Robin Wood, 67, of Salt Spring Island, B.C., was killed Tuesday when he stood up to two suspects who tried to rob a friend's home in the town of Melaque, south of Puerto Vallarta.

Police in that case have promised a thorough investigation, and were quick to reassure Canadians this week that the country was safe.

A memorial page on Facebook recalls Osegueda, a Brazilian dance instructor and yoga teacher, as having a contagious smile and love for life.

"I will always remember you as a positive and happy person," wrote one friend.

"Ximena, for your sharpness when you showed those lines of force and voices that speak through you in your research," wrote another.

"And always that warmth and joy shared."

Local media reports said Osegueda and Santamaria were last seen in mid-December, and police were looking at various possible motives, including robbery, kidnapping or a personal vendetta. They note the beach where the bodies were discovered has become a dumping ground for victims of organized crime.

Osegueda disappeared while travelling by car to a yoga class, and relatives contacted police after failing to hear from her following a reported robbery at her home.

Lipkau declined to comment on the investigation, saying police had asked the family for discretion. But she said relatives were still holding out some hope the bodies aren't those of the couple, since conclusive DNA testing hasn't yet been completed.

"We're all hoping the identification is not right," she said. "But even if those aren't their bodies, everybody's still very worried because they've been missing for a month, and that's very concerning."

The recent violence brought a swift online reaction, with many demanding Canadians boycott the popular vacation country.

"Why would anyone go to Mexico? Maybe the fools who continue to go to Mexico should consider the safer options of North Korea or Afghanistan," posted one reader.

"I still don't understand why people still vacation there," said another. "As someone else posted, spend a little more and keep your life."

Such reactions are not new, and pop up every time there is a murder or robbery in Mexico.

But Kay Darlington, a Canadian who has lived in San Jose Del Cabo for about 15 years, said she hasn't seen a drop in tourism of late and has never had any reason to feel unsafe in Mexico.

"I'm from Abbotsford, B.C., and when we came from there, there were murders on a daily basis (in Abbotsford)," she said.

"Now they're happy because they've actually managed to make a year without a murder," she added, referring to news this week that the community had shed the title of homicide capital of Canada.

The people who criticize Mexico, she added, are usually those who have never visited the country.

"I can't even imagine anyone coming down here and saying it's not safe," said Darlington.

"We are loaded with Canadian tourists, this year especially."

Mexico is the second most popular destination for Canadians travelling abroad after the United States, and tourism from Canada to Mexico doubled between 2005 and 2010, when 1.6 million Canadians visited.

Mexico's tourism board said that coming off a strong holiday season, hotels in many of the top destinations were seeing a significant increase in occupancy compared to last year's winter break.

"We have been getting very good results in tourism, definitely the Canadian market in particular has been the star," said Rodrigo Esponda, who heads the Canadian branch of the Mexico Tourism Board.

"There has been no other market that has been growing steadily in the last five years at the pace that the Canadian market has."

Esponda urged common sense when travelling in Mexico, just like in any other country. He said that while tragic, the incidents of violence are isolated when compared to the number of Canadians travelling to Mexico without any problem.

— By Romina Maurino in Toronto.