NOTE: All rankings are from 1 to 5 by FTI Consulting Ibero America, 1 representing a safe country and 5 representing a very dangerous country.
High/Higher: High or trend to be higher.
Stable/Possible Ch: Stable with possible changes.
Stable/No Ch: Stable with no changes.
The ratings are based on official numbers from Public Security Secretariats, Local Police, Governments, Non-governmental Organizations (NGO) and Institutes of Crime Investigations.
METHODOLOGY AND SOURCES
This index takes into account how each country in the region is doing related to public insecurity, with a special focus on the business community. This allows longer-term trends to be seen in terms of improvement or worsening of the situation.
FTI Consulting obtains government statistics at the federal, state or province and municipal levels in areas such as homicides, serious crime, cargo theft, home invasions, kidnapping, political and labor unrest, riots and violent demonstrations and drug trafficking, as well as the efficacy of government programs put into place to combat these problems. FTI weighs the governmental data based on its reliability, and it also utilizes NGO and multilateral institution studies and statistics and information in all these areas as a part of its ranking. FTI conducts scans of all major regional media outlets in order to obtain more specific facts around certain phenomena as well as academic research on the issue. Finally, FTI polls its business contacts in the region related to issues affecting their security.
Latin America Security: Venezuela Worse, Panama Safer
The safest and most dangerous countries in Latin America for foreign multinational executives.
BY LBC STAFF
Venezuela, along with Haiti and three Central American countries, is getting more dangerous for foreign multinational executives, according to the sixth annual Latin Security Index developed by FTI Consulting Ibero America for Latin Business Chronicle.
Meanwhile, Panama has seen an improvement. Overall, security for multinational executives in Latin America has worsened slightly the past year, the index shows.
The Latin Security Index takes into account how each country in the region is doing related to public insecurity, with a special focus on the business community.
Apart from polling its business contacts in the region related to issues affecting their security, FTI analyzes government statistics at the federal, state or province and municipal levels in areas such as homicides, serious crime, cargo theft, home invasions, kidnapping, political and labor unrest, riots and violent demonstrations and drug trafficking, as well as the efficacy of government programs put into place to combat these problems. FTI weighs the governmental data based on its reliability, and it also utilizes NGO and multilateral institution studies and statistics and information in all these areas as a part of its ranking. FTI conducts scans of all major regional media outlets in order to obtain more specific facts around certain phenomena as well as academic research on the issue.
“Latin America has been one of the regions of the world less affected by the financial crisis, and due to its relatively strong growth over the past years has made some improvement as a whole in social inclusion as well as resourcing the fight against crime, in some countries leading to an improvement in public security,” says Frank L. Holder, Chairman of Latin America at FTI Consulting. However, “drug trafficking and the cartels that spring from the activity continue to wreak havoc on several Central American countries as well as Mexico.”
This is not expected to change in the short term, although a new President in Mexico may lead to a revision of the country’s current policies and strategies with regards to fighting the drug cartels, he adds.
Political instability, long another problem that has plagued the region, has dropped significantly over the past several years and is not currently a major factor in public insecurity, according to Holder.
VENEZUELA: SPIRALLING INSECURITY
Venezuela continues to rank as the most dangerous country in South America and second-most dangerous in Latin America and the Caribbean. Only Haiti is more dangerous, the index shows.
The country’s danger level score is 5 (the worst on a scale of 1 to 5), with danger trending high or higher.
“To a spiraling public insecurity problem we can now add political uncertainty undermining stability of the country,” Holder says. “Escalating levels of violence are placing increasing unfulfilled demands on the Venezuelan government. By 2011, the number of homicides had increased to more than 19,000 – an astonishing number that exceeds the total number of murders in United States and the European Union combined. Added to these, there are an increasing number of all categories of kidnappings, many ending in violence.” (See Caracas: A War Zone)
MEXICO: HIGH VIOLENT CRIME
Despite its image as a generally dangerous country, Mexico continues to lag behind Venezuela, Haiti and several Central American countries in danger. It receives a danger level score of 4 (better than the worst score of 5), although its danger level is trending high or higher.
Now towards the end of its mandate, the administration of President Felipe Calderon has managed to disrupt and stop many heads of drugs cartels in the open battle against drugs in the national territory, something that previous years only occurred in the Northern States.
“Unfortunately, this has not yet appreciably lowered the high violent crimes rate the country is suffering,” Holder says
Narco violence in Mexico is linked to cartels fighting to control lucrative drug routes into and out of the country. The main concern of the Mexican people going into the elections in July is public security, Holder says.
Colombia continues to rank among the top half group of countries with the highest danger level, but its trend is stable. Its danger level score is 4 and it is seen as a safer place than both Mexico and Brazil, according to the index.
Colombia is undergoing a complicated process of disarming the FARC guerrilla combined with the emergence of groups of organized crime formed by former paramilitaries, who are expanding into drug trafficking. The report of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia stated that the increase in the murders that occurred in Colombia in 2010 is associated with the activity of these illegal armed groups.
“Just the same, Colombia is the country with the most improvement in its public insecurity over the past decade,” Holder says.
BRAZIL: BETTER IN SOUTH, WORSE IN NORTH
Brazil is safer than Mexico, but less so than Colombia, according to the index. It gets a danger level score of 4. The trend is stable, albeit with possible changes.
The country continues carrying out a fight against organized crime in the sectors considered “Hotspots” in terms of criminality such as Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and other cities in the Northeast. In 2010, Brazil registered 40,974 murders in a population of 190 million people.
The government of President Dilma Rousseff plans to continue betting on social inclusion, greater investment in education and health, and a clear line of action towards public security, Holder says.
“There has been a marked reduction of homicides and criminality in general in the south of the country,” he says. “Unfortunately, this has been accompanied by a marked increase in both categories in the northeast of the country.”
THE NORTHERN TRIANGLE: DANGER ZONE
The Northern Triangle of Central America continues to be one of the most dangerous areas of Latin America. And it’s getting worse. On the Latin Security Index 2012, the three countries of the triangle – Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala – all saw their danger level worsen from a score of 4 to 5 (the worst). And the danger level is trending towards high or higher.
Between them, Honduras ranks as the worst country, followed by El Salvador and Guatemala.
At the beginning of 2012, the “Hammer Operation” was launched. It is a multilateral operation that is part of the strategy of regional security supported by the U.S. government to combat transnational organized crime in Honduras.
Statistics in the country indicate that in only 23 months of the government of the current President, Porfirio Lobo, there were 12,838 homicides. In 2011 alone there were 7,104 homicides, an average of 558 per month, which is equivalent to 19 by day, or one every 74 minutes. Of the three million weapons circulating illegally in Central America, 800,000 are in Honduras.
Some private companies design and build high-security facilities for their key executives and families, production plants, operational and administrative staff.
According to police statistics, El Salvador in 2011 recorded more than 4,300 killings, 9.3 percent more than in 2010. Since the beginning of the year there has been a spike in the number of homicides.
The murders mostly follow the trend of Mexico that are “score settling” between groups of organized crime involved in drug trafficking, the control of territories and other criminal practices.
“The private sector, specially the financial sector, has low levels of trust in the law enforcement authorities and the judicial power,” Holder says.
Corruption, drug trafficking, juvenile violence, Maras and a largely failed police reform continue to be at the center of public insecurity.
The President of Guatemala, Otto Perez, has recently announced that he will propose the legalization of drugs as a strategy to fight against the powerful drug cartels. “This is a desperate measure provoked by the high rates of criminality related to drug trafficking,” Holder argues.
HAITI: MOST DANGEROUS
Haiti remains the most dangerous country in Latin America for multinational executives. While its homicide rates are lower than in Central America, its overall environment is more insecure.
Haiti’s danger level is 5 and trending high or higher.
While there have been some improvements since the earthquake of January 2010, there is still a lot of damage to infrastructure including electricity, health services, roads and water supplies. More than half a million earthquake victims are still living in tents and other temporary structures. The areas most affected are the center of Port-au-Prince and outwards.
“Despite peacekeeping forces efforts, there are still high levels of criminal activity and violence throughout the country, including the growing risk of kidnapping,” Holder says.
Port-au-Prince in February reached 60.9 homicides per 100,000 inhabitants, the highest rate since 2006. Governance of the country is still tenuous. Private companies continue to use executive protection in the industries of cement and construction due to the high risk of kidnapping among others, according to Holder.
BOLIVIA: WORSE THAN COLOMBIA
Bolivia received a danger level of 4 and ranks between Brazil and Colombia in safety for multinational executives. It is safer than Brazil, but less so than Colombia.
Holder points out that as much as 85 percent of crimes committed are not reported by their victims because of the mistrust towards the police and the national judicial system, according to a survey conducted by the Observatory of Public Security.
According to the Vice Ministry of Public Security in the cities of La Paz, El Alto, Cochabamba and Santa Cruz de la Sierra, on average, four out of every ten houses suffered thefts during 2011.
In the drug trafficking landscape, the country continues to suffer a penetration of regional narco groups.
Argentina, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay and Peru are all among the safest half of Latin America, with danger level scores of 3. Ecuador ranks as the safest country in the Andean Group.
Nicaragua kept its score compared with last year, but on the ranking it managed to go from being the 10th-safest country to the sixth-safest.
“Nicaragua, despite its persistent poverty, continues to differentiate itself from neighboring countries of El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala in terms of its overall crime rate and its homicide rate, and is making some improvement based on community policing and public private partnerships,” Holder says.
Argentina ranks as the fifth-safest country in Latin America and safest in the Mercosur trading block.
Holder points out that Argentina continues to suffer a systematic lack of updated crime statistics. The numbers published normally are from previous years and there is no updated information.
“Nevertheless, the stable trend in relation to the high rates of urban crime continues especially in metropolitan areas,” he says. “There has been a slight increase in social protests and high profile kidnappings and robbery attempts, but overall rates appear to have remained stable.”
Panama remains the fourth-safest country in Latin America.
“Panama has seen overall improvement in its public insecurity indicators in 2011,” Holder says.
Its homicide rate, already the second lowest in Central America after Costa Rica, dropped by 23 percent and its overall crime rate dropped by 4 percent.
“However, it is facing new challenges from organized crime related to narcotics trafficking transiting the country on its way to the North American markets,” Holder points out.
CHILE, URUGUAY AND COSTA RICA: THE SAFEST
Costa Rica, Chile and Uruguay remain the safest countries in Latin America, with a danger level of 2.
“These countries have maintained reasonable levels of public insecurity in their territories and major cities,” Holder says.
Although insecurity remains a growing issue in Costa Rica, the country still ranks as the safest in Latin America and stands in contrast to its dangerous neighbors in Central America.
But tellingly enough, neither Costa Rica nor Chile and Uruguay get a perfect score of 1 (representing a completely safe country).