South & Central America 1st December 2017

Most visits to South and Central America are trouble free but the threat from crime is of concern in many of the continent's urban areas. Its essential to ensure your valuables are split up - not all eggs in one basket! In popular tourist areas across South America (Buenos Aires, Cuzco, Quito) travellers face a significant threat of being mugged - always comply. A Japan national was killed resisting a mugging outside a hotel in Medellin, Colombia in December 2016, this just confirms the need never to resist a robbery, just comply to demands. Most travellers have a safe time on the continent, below are just some highlights of current issues. Visitors should be aware that the western coast Andes region is an active earthquake zone. A large earthquake hit NW Ecuador on 16 April 2016 with over 440 dead. It is essential that travellers check the annual weather patterns before planning a trip, eg Peru and Bolivia are generally very wet between Jan to March. The situation in Venezuela is getting worse, 29 demonstrators were killed on 26 April 2017 and violent protests followed the constitutional vote on 31 August 2017. The US and Canada have now imposed more sanctions against the Maduro regime. The British FCO now advises against travel to most of the country.

In Brazil there is a significant risk of being mugged in the big cities and in some cases where the victim is marched to an ATM machine. The current poor economic situation is leading to an increase in crime. Since 2015 there have been many cases of mass robberies of people on the beaches of Copocabana and Ipanema beaches in Rio. Many attacks are initiated by false taxi drivers so only registered taxis should be used and its often safer to book a taxi via a hotel, hostel, restaurant etc where a known supplier will be used. Travellers must comply to all demands from criminal assailants.  Brazil is expensive compared to other countries in the region, although the Real is now falling in value. The Brazilian economy is in significant decline and politically the country is very unstable following the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff. The new government under President Michel Temer is attempting to introduce austerity measures which is leading to further protests. On 2 August 2017 the Congress declined to open corruption investigation against President Temer, this is likely to spark more protests against the government.  There has been a significant increase in crime in Rio since the World Cup, the Army has been deployed to higher crime areas. A Spanish tourist was shot and killed at a police check point in late October 2017.

The general economic situation in Argentina is also poor but has begun to improve with the new President Macri. However as cuts in government spending have begun so have  anti Government demonstrations.  The new president is likely to want to improve relations with the UK over the Falkland Islands (known as Malvinas Island in Argentina). British visitors should have some knowledge of the conflict of 1982 is advised, especially the sinking of the cruiser Belgrano by HMS Conquerer. In late April 2016 protests against Macri economic reforms have started, they are needed to improve the failing economy. In recent months Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador have experienced some civil unrest, generally related to worsening economic situation. In Paraguay, general a peaceful country emerging from 35 years of dictatorship, rioters burnt the congress building on 31 March 2017 in protest to the President attempting to change the constitution. Turning to medical matters there has been an outbreak of Yellow Fever in the Cochabamba province in Bolivia in 2017. As a result the Bolivian authorities are likely to be stricter about enforcing the need for a Yellow Fever certificate

Relations between Colombia and Venezuela remain poor but seem to be improving since Santos became Colombia's President. Venezuela is in a fragile state with high levels of crime, civil unrest and economic stagnation due to lower oil prices. In 2017 there has been an increase in mass protests against the inept government of President Madura, food shortages, currentcy restrictions and power outages are a daily occurrence, the border between Colombia & Venezuela has been periodically shut by Venezuela.  The border areas must be avoided between Colombia, Venezuela and Ecuador as they are unsafe and havens of numerous guerrilla groups including FARC. Colombia is certainly safer than it was 3 or 4 years ago but jungle areas near both the Ecuadorian and Venezuelan border should be avoided. The rebel grouping FARC signed a historic ceasefire deal with the government on 13 Nov 2016.  The other smaller rebel group, the ELN, is in negotiation with the government and on 4th September announced a temporary ceasefire.  Travellers should adhered to the FCO advice regarding safe areas. We have received a number of reports of taxi drivers in Bogota scamming credit and debit cards so its best to pay with cash where possible. For those wishing to understand the background the civil war in Colombia, Tom Feiling's book  "Short Walks from Bogota" is a good read.       

The threat from kidnappings remains a risk in Colombia and Mexico but locals (especially high net individuals) and foreign nationals working in the country are assessed at being at the  greatest risk. Business travellers on short term visits just need to take sensible precautions such as lowering their profile, occasionally changing their routine and being generally careful with their security. 

The crime rate in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador is of particular concern, travellers need to be prepared to minimise the chances of crime and prepare to get mugged - just comply. Honduras is holding elections on 26 November. There is an increased risk of civil and political tension. Unrest has increased in Honduras following elections at the end of November 2017.  

Since 2014 there has been a rapid increase in cases of Chikungunya Fever across Central America and Caribbean, caused by day biting mosquitos. Chikungunya has similar symptons to Dengue Fever which is also a continued risk in Central and South America. Brazil is currently reporting an above average number of cases of Dengue Fever and Chikungunya Fever, Recipe and Pernambuco state has seen a significant concentration. In Aug 2017 the US CDC issued a Level 1 health warning for Chikunguanya for Brazil.  Uruguary has seen a significant rise in the number of cases Dengue in 2017.

The Zika virus, spread again by Aedes mosquitoes, is infecting many across the continent. The mass outbreak of 2016 is now under control but further cases are likely, pregnant women are most at risk. However for many the symptons are mild and much less severe than Dengue or Chikungunya Fever.  Therefore we assess that the risk for most travellers is low and therefore currently do not view this outbreak as a reason not to go to South America. Dengue is much more of an issue and Brazil has reported a significant rise in the number of cases in 2017 compared to previous years. In Puerto Rico there has also been an increase in the cases of Zika. Uruguay is also currently experiencing an outbreak of Dengue Fever for the first time in years.

Mexico has been hit by 2 powerful earthquakes in 2017, the 19 Sept one killed over 250 people

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