If you are a business executive with a large multinational, Haiti and Venezuela are now the most dangerous countries in Latin America for you and your company to be in. But overall, with a few exceptions, Latin America is about as secure this year as it was last year. So says the Latin Business Chronicle, which recently released its annual Latin Security Index rating 19 countries in the region.
The most notable change, according to the Latin Business Chronicle, is in Venezuela, which is the only country in the region that actually dropped in score—from a 4 to a 5. However, Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala all saw their situations worsen compared to other countries in Latin America.
The Index rates countries from 1 to 5, with 1 being a very safe country and 5 a very dangerous one. The ratings are based on official statistics from public groups, including governments, local police, institutes that investigate crime, and other sources.
Like several other studies that rate destinations for quality-of-life issues, such as Mercer’s global Quality of Life ranking, the Latin Security Index’s primary market is business executives with multinational corporations. Their needs, and the cities where they tend to locate, may not be typical of non-business expats and travelers. (Note: International Living’s Quality of Life Index is more focused towards non-business expats).
Mexico is a case in point. For 2010 the Index did not change Mexico’s score (4) or its rank on the list (fifth most dangerous country) from last year. But it does note that Mexico’s situation has worsened due to heavy and continuing drug-related violence.
Most of this violence occurs along the U.S./Mexico border and in nearby Mexican states with a strong drug cartel presence. Relatively few of the estimated one million U.S. retirees and second-home owners in Mexico actually live in this area. Instead, they are concentrated in expat havens that are 10 or more hours from the U.S./Mexico border.
In large countries like Mexico, therefore—a list that includes Brazil, Argentina, Chile and Colombia—expats should consider supplementing Indexes like this one with data for the city or region where they plan to live.
Expats Jim and Ellen Fields, for instance, have lived in Mexico for eight-and-a-half years and don’t worry about safety. They are located in Merida, in the Yucatan Peninsula, about a three-days’ drive from the U.S. border. “Yucatan, and especially Merida, has a reputation for being safe. I think it’s one of the safest cities of a million people that you’ll find,” says Jim.
There “has been more violence in Michoacan,” he says, where he and his wife have a small property. But in Merida?
“I think I’ve known of one instance of violence in the centro historico while I’ve been here,” he adds. The Fields have lived in the city center since they arrived in Merida.
They have also run businesses in Merida for most of that time. Rather than working for multinationals, however, they’ve been small-business entrepreneurs, a distinction Jim is quick to point out. “We’re business people, [but] assimilating into a community. We’re living here more like we live here.”
Though Merida is a major regional capital, it does not tend to serve as the Mexico headquarters of multinationals. These tend to gravitate toward Mexico City, Monterrey, and Guadalajara.
Lee Harrison, roving Latin America editor for International Living, has lived in Ecuador, Brazil and Uruguay and travels extensively through Latin America. He notes that foreign business executives tend to live in capitals and major business centers, while retiree expats are often concentrated in secondary cities and beach communities.
Lee notes that he’s found rural areas in Latin America to be safer than big cities.
While he has personally had no problems anywhere in the region, Lee says, “I definitely feel safer in Uruguay than in either Brazil or Ecuador.”
The Latin Security Index gives no countries in Latin America a 1 rating. It rates Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay the highest; they all receive 2s. Haiti and Venezuela are the only countries to receive 5s. The average score for the region is 3.42.