South & Central America 27th April 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 terrific 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, the most recent was an quake in the Los Lagos area of southern Chile in mid December 2016. It is essential that travellers check the annual weather patterns before planning a trip, eg Peru and Bolivia are generally very wet Jan to March. The situation in Venezuela is getting worse, 29 demonstrators were killed on 26 April 2017 and more protests will occur.

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, daily protests have occurred in Nov 2016.    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 begin so do anti Government demonstrations from the Unions.  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.  Chile and Peru are vulnerable to earthquakes, travellers should seek advice from the locals as to what to do in the event of a quake. In recent months Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador have experienced some civil unrest, generally related to worsening economic situation. A large earthquake hit NW Ecuador on 16 April 2016 with over 440 dead. Ecuador is in the process of choosing a new president, the campaign period runs 10 to 30 March with the electin on 2 April 2017. Expect numerous rallies but generally expected to be peaceful. In Paraguay, general a peaceful country emerging from 35 years of dictatorship, rioters burnt the congress building on 31 March in protest to the President attempting to change the constitution.

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 December 2016 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.  In late May 2016 Lufthansa and LATAM airlines announce they were suspending flights to Caracas. 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 but in February & March 2017 it has increased its low level attacks in order to put pressure on the government. So the threat of more violence remains and travellers mush adhered to the FCO advice regarding safe areas.   

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. During the summer of 2015 El Salvador, especially San Salvador, there has been an increase in inter gang violence, a number of bus drivers have been murdered. Tourists have not be targetted but should be aware of the escalated violence. 

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.  Uruguary has seen a significant rise in the number of cases. 

The Zika virus, spread again by Aedes mosquitoes, is infecting many across the continent. At the beginnnig of February the WHO declared it an Emergency. Since the middle of Jan 16 the Brazilian Army was deployed to help combat its spread. 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 is reporting a significant rise in the number of cases in 2016 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. 

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