Latin America Security Warnings for US Travelers Point to Flawed Policies

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US authorities have issued new security warnings for individuals traveling to several Latin American countries, pointing to flaws in past and current US policies aimed at addressing crime and violence in the region.

On January 10, the US State Department’s online information platform for travel information announced a new four-level system for describing security conditions in foreign countries. The agency also issued advisories for several Latin American countries suggesting that US citizens reconsider or avoid traveling there.

The State Department asked travelers to reconsider trips to El Salvador, due to violent crime and gang activity. The same applies to neighboring Guatemala and Honduras.

Travel advice was also updated for Colombia. US authorities warned against traveling to a number of departments in Colombia “due to crime and terrorism,” and asked travelers to “exercise increased caution” when visiting the country.

Five Mexican states — Colima, Michoacán, Guerrero, Sinaloa and Tamaulipas — were placed in the “Do Not Travel” category due to concerns about high levels of crime, while the government urged citizens to reconsider travel to 11 others.

InSight Crime Analysis

The United States has long worked with many of the countries for which advisories were issued in attempts to bring down their persistently high levels of crime and violence. But the new warnings against traveling to these nations serve as a type of admission that US-backed security policies have often fallen short of their goals.

In the Northern Triangle countries of El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, for example, the United States has spent hundreds of millions of dollars on security-related aid programs over the past decade with few evaluations of the effectiveness of this funding. Although homicide rates have seen recent decreases in all three countries, they remain among the most violent nations in the world.

Colombia and Mexico have received billions in US security aid over the past decade. And while many security indicators in Colombia have been trending in a positive direction, major concerns linger over the future of the country’s criminal landscape amid a huge boom in cocaine production. Mexico, on the other hand, is experiencing levels of violence unseen for years.

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Of course, US policy is hardly the only factor shaping security outcomes in Latin America. But as InSight Crime recently noted, the administration of US President Donald Trump has struggled to find its bearings during its first year, often adopting contradictory rhetoric and counterproductive policies.

For instance, just two days before warning US citizens to rethink traveling to El Salvador, the Trump administration announced that in September 2019 it will rescind immigration protections awarded to Salvadorans following a pair of earthquakes in 2001, putting nearly 200,000 immigrants at risk of deportation to the gang-plagued Central American country.

Officials said the decision was based on a determination that “the original conditions caused by the 2001 earthquakes no longer exist,” and that “the temporary inability of El Salvador to adequately return their nationals after the earthquake has been addressed.” (The administration made similar arguments last year when it ended protections offered to Haitians after a 2010 earthquake there, and it is weighing whether or not to cancel protections for Hondurans and Nicaraguans.)

However, a number of non-governmental organizations including InSight Crime have argued that the move is likely to exacerbate already high levels of insecurity in El Salvador, and could paradoxically lead to more displacement and migration.

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