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. It's 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, e.g. Peru and Bolivia are generally very wet between January to March. Road safety is an issue throughout the continent, in 2018, there have been 2 deadly bus crashes in Peru - seats belts should be warn at all times.
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 it is 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 in 2016. Presidential elections were held in October 2018 and the far right candidate and former army officer Jair Bolsonaro was elected. The country will continue to be politically divided and demonstrations will continue. There has been a significant increase in crime in Rio in 2018 and the Army has been deployed in many parts of the city in an attempt to quell violence. An outbreak of looting and street demonstrations in the northern city of Fortelza in early Jan 2019 prompted the Army to be deployed there as well. The new president will take a tough line on crime.
The general economic situation in Argentina is also poor but has begun to improve in some areas under President Macri. However, as cuts in government spending have begun so have anti government demonstrations, inflation is running at over 30% and more help is being sought from the IMF. Relations with the UK over the Falkland Islands (known as Malvinas Island in Argentina) have improved, but British visitors should have some knowledge of the conflict of 1982, especially the sinking of the Argentinian cruiser The General Belgrano by HMS Conquerer.
In recent months, Peru, Bolivia and Ecuador have experienced some civil unrest, generally related to worsening economic situation. In Paraguay, generally 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.
The country 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 Maduro. Food shortages, currency restrictions and power outages are a daily occurrence, the border between Colombia & Venezuela has been periodically shut by Venezuela. In August 2018, Ecuador shut its border with Colombia to fleeing Venezuelans who were traveling on ID cards only. The FCO currently advises against all but essential travel to the Venezuela. The situation is Venezuela is likely to worsen. A presidential election was held in mid May 2018. Madura was re-elected on a small turnout, the opposition parties claimed the vote was rigged. Venezeula will remain highly unstable with a shrinking economy. Thousands of people are leaving Venzuela everyday and in August 2018, many of the neighbouring countries have placed restrictions in an attempt to stem the flow. Anti government protests are occuring very frequently across the country. In a seperate move in January 2019 the US Government officially recognised the opposition leader Juan Guaido as the interim President, a move condemned by President Maduro. The USA has sent aid to the Colombian border area but Venezuela has refused to let it in. International pressure on Maduro to stand down grows.
Colombia is certainly safer than it was 10 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 November 2016. The other smaller rebel group, the ELN, declared a ceasefire in September 2017 and negotiations started. However, in mid January 2018, the talks collapsed and the ceasefire ended. On 18 Jan 2019 a car bomb at a police academy in Bogato killed 21 people. Visitores 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 it's 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. Colombia is certainly much safer than a decade ago, but travellers need to be aware of high crime levels in the big cities and take precautions. The Ecuador/Colombian border (except the main crossing point) remains an unsafe area. Two Ecuador journalists were killed by a dissident Colombian rebel group in mid April 2018 & further kidnappings have occurred.
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 and Honduras 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. Nicaragua has become very unstable in 2018 following growing street protests. Over 300 people have been killed and the violence continued into the summer of 2018. Those travelling to Mexico should thoroughly resecarch thier destination as in many areas there are high levels of crime with criminal gangs operating.
El Salvador remains relatively stable and young travellers in particular continue to report favourably on their travels in the country. Presidential elections are scheduled for 3 Feb 2019.
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, Sao Paulo and Pernambuco state has seen a significant concentration. Paraguay & Uruguary have seen a significant rise in the number of cases Dengue in early 2019.
Turning to Yellow Fever, in mid 2017 there was an outbreak in the Cochabamba province in Bolivia and a much more significant outrbreak in Brazil's Sao Paulo and Minas Gerais states. In mid January 2018, the W.H.O. suggested that visitors to rural Sao Paulo state should get a Yellow Fever innocualtion. The Bolivian authorities may get stricter about enforcing the need for a Yellow Fever certificate.
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. In Puerto Rico there has also been an increase in the cases of Zika.
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