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The Different Degrees of Danger Perception in Latin America

Published June 9, 2021 in Health & Safety - 0 Comments

Sometimes when I return to my hometown in Iowa….

I’ll be sitting in the car of my sister as we are going somewhere.

Maybe a restaurant or something.

Anyhow, I’ve noticed that sometimes we have a minor disagreement.

She’ll always tell me about “how dangerous our town has gotten, Matt” when I’m back.

It seems to be getting worse for sure!

More shootings and all.

But I always found it odd how she felt the small town was dangerous.

“Well, you know, someone got shot yesterday.”


Doesn’t matter.

Just some random person, I feel.

Did she know the guy? No.

And people get shot all the time.

Granted, we don’t disagree much.

I get it.

In a smaller town, word gets around more and violence feels more personal and all.

So I don’t disagree with her perception of danger.

And she knew to think the same.

She’d sometimes respond with something like “well, maybe after enough time in Mexico, Colombia and all those other countries…your sensitivity to danger is a little bit different.”

And that’s an entirely fair point!

It happens in Latin America also.

Where you have different folks giving different very different opinions on how safe Latin America is.

Just today, I saw a comment on the internet when just casually browsing....

Where one guy felt that Mexico City might not be the best place to visit…

And other folks, like myself, disagreed and said it’s safe enough.

At any rate, this got me thinking about the different degrees of danger perception in Latin America…

What do I mean by that?

Well, let’s say you managed to get 100 opinions on the safety of Mexico City.

Among those opinions, you’re going to get different points of view obviously.

With some extremes.

And different motivations for why some people feel the way they do.

With some folks trying to convince you that “nothing bad happens here!” and how “the US is so much worse broooo.”

To the other extreme where folks will try convincing you that you will get shanked in the kidney by an AIDs infected, Zika infected, Ebola infected knife from ISIS upon your arrival to Mexico City.

And plenty of people in between who don’t, in the grand scheme of things, give nuanced views on safety in this city.

Just more bland, generalized statements like “you’ll be OK!” with no details to provide.

Seemingly like maybe some of them just showed up a month ago to the city and don’t have much to add….

Regardless, let’s cover what I usually see as being the different degrees of responses you’ll get to “is x Latin city dangerous.”

While also theorizing some of the motivations for why someone might make any of the statements they do below.

So let’s get to it.

The Public Relations Director of LATAM

First, you have a type of gringo that you meet in Latin America whose self-delegated role is to be the Public Relations Director of Latin America.

Where they constantly always have the most mental gymnastics ready to counter any argument that illustrates a negative aspect of life in Latin America.

Often, these folks will get angrier than even the locals at those who make criticisms of life in Latin America.

At times, these same folks will use terminology like “colonialist mindset” as if those who made the criticism were somehow Spanish or American colonialists relaxing at their hacienda bitching at their slaves to work faster.

When, in reality, the foreigner making the criticism is likely some mid 20s post-college kid working from his laptop trying to teach English online to Indian students for 10 dollars an hour.

There are other lines these folks use also…

Like how “it’s worse elsewhere bro!” to trying to blame the victim of whatever crime they suffered.

And the criticism they made?

Well, as I saw one time, there was this Australian woman who asked a question on a Facebook group for expats in Mexico City…

And she asked why is it that it seems like the vehicles in Mexico City are purposefully trying to run over pedestrians.

Which, in my experience, is a perfectly fair critique of life in Mexico as it does seem at times that the local drivers want to kill you!

Anyway, that small and fair critique pissed off A LOT of people.

With some literally using the “colonialist mindset” argument.

You can’t make this shit up.

But are these foreign folks the only ones who get angry at criticisms about safety and other issues?


Sometimes the locals do also.

Let’s cover that briefly.

The Insecure Local

Next, you have the insecure local.

The one who shits himself in raging anger at the sight of any criticism thrown at his country.

No matter how fair it is.

Now, to be fair, every country has folks who get insecure at criticism at their country.

It’s the ol’ “IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT GO HOME!” mentality.

Which, if you were to use that line on a foreigner living in the US who made a fair criticism of the US, then many of these folks mentioned so far would shit themselves in similar raging anger.

Because they tend to be perfectly OK with throwing criticisms at the US (which is fine) but HATE IT when the same is done to their country.

Fair enough.

Anyway, I remember a few days ago reading some online forum where some American guy asked how safe is El Salvador…

And some local made a comment about how “well, it’s not very safe. They just discovered a bunch of bodies in the backyard of some police officer. Lots of crime. Here’s some tips to be safe.”

And another guy, assumingly from El Salvador, exploded in anger foaming at the mouth and going blind in pure hate….

Saying shit like “shit the fuck up faggot, stop SHITTING ON MY COUNTRY!”

And, to be fair, the other guy’s comment was perfectly fine.

It didn’t shit on the country nor make it seem like a perfect paradise.

And it had tips for how to be safe!

Either way, there is no appeasing the insecure local.

They can’t handle any criticism whatsoever.

Now, to be fair, I get why some would be insecure given the international perception of their country being a “shit hole.”

As we all know how plenty of people hang onto the negatives more than the positives…

Like when people think of “cocaine” for Colombia and how Colombians hate it when you bring that topic up…

So, to a degree, I get where the insecurity comes from even though I feel that some of the locals are tripping when they try to downplay the risks of their respective communities.

The Potential Tourism Local

I’m not going to expand on this group very much because I don’t feel as confident that “it’s a thing.”

More that this is a theory of mine…

My theory is this…

You have parts of Latin America where there is a ton of tourism.

With some areas of this world being very heavily dependent on tourism.

And some of the locals in those parts have jobs in the tourism industry.

Subsequently, there will be an effort to make their respective community feel safe and deny that anything out of the ordinary happens there.

Safe enough for you to visit!

Don’t worry about the danger!

The best example I can think of regarding that is the Colombian government’s campaign to promote a Colombia where “the only risk is wanting to stay.”

As you can see here.

But it is my belief, to a degree, that some of the locals outside of the government recognize obviously the benefits of tourism…

And, on social media, will take an effort to promote how safe it is online for those to visit.

Even if, by objective measures, it isn’t safe when you look at all the crime reported (and remember all the crime that wouldn’t be reported due to little local confidence in the police).

Now there is another group that comes to mind….

The “Normalized to Violence” Group

This group consists of both locals and gringos.

The locals who have lived in x community all their lives and are adjusted to how insecure it may or may not be…

Thus, their perception of what constitutes “too dangerous to visit” might be out of line than a typical tourist coming in from rural Idaho.

And, at times, you can argue, perhaps like my sister did to me, that enough time down here even for the gringos can shape our perception of what is dangerous.

Here’s an interesting example I remember from reading an article from a website called MyLatinLife.

As you can see here, it’s a guide to the Paraguayan Capital known as Asuncion.

Arguably the best guide to that city I’ve seen online so check it out!

Under the “Safety” section of the article, the author known as Vance goes on about how he felt the city was quite safe and how the statistics showed as such.

Now, keep in mind, that Vance also, from my understanding, has been around to other Latin countries that are much more dangerous than Paraguay.

Though, in his experience, he found some of the locals felt that Asuncion was not necessarily too safe as you can see in this quote from that article here:

In light of this, I was curious as to why some people felt the city was dangerous. I posed the question to another local guy who had lived abroad and he explained things rather concisely.

“Well, Asuncion may not be as dangerous as some of the cities you’ve been to, but it’s becoming more dangerous each day.”

And that local put it the same way my sister put it to me – “not as dangerous as the cities you’ve been to.”

So when it comes to the perception of danger in any particular city…

It’s similar to what I wrote in this article here where your experiences in Latin America are all relative.

And how those past experiences will inform your thinking on any new place you visit.

If you’ve been to the worst neighborhoods of Caracas, I imagine the neighborhood of Tepito in Mexico City might look like heaven.

Or how time in Mexico City might make a time in Asuncion to feel safer than how some of the locals might feel.

Or how time in Latin America more broadly might make you feel that the gunshots heard in your small town in Iowa isn’t too much because “it’s just one random dude dead. Didn’t even know him. Who care?”

Granted, you might argue I’ve been to some rougher areas in Latin America than your average gringo so maybe my perception is really out of whack here.

But, as I said, it all comes back to past experiences.

All relative.

And so when talking with certain gringos who have their opinion on how safe or unsafe an area might be….

Just keep in mind their past experiences and where they are coming from.

To that specific person, what would they normally consider dangerous?

And is that out of line with your own perception of danger|

The Rationale Group

Granted, nobody is perfectly rationale.

But I wanted to make a “middle of the road” group for locals and gringos to be in.

This group could also be part of the last group.

Perhaps someone who has a lot of experiences but can more easily think what might be “too dangerous” for others when giving advice on where to be in Latin America..

But the key characteristic of this group is that they don’t spend their days being the Public Relations Director of the group where they can never utter a single criticism of the country…

And how they don’t spend their days being “a Hater” of Latin America where they can never say a single positive thing about Latin America.

Where they can, for the most part, give reasonable opinions that are more nuanced than extreme.

And that’s the last group that comes in mind.

The Hater of Latin America

Finally, we have “the hater.”

This is a person who will tell you how extremely all of Latin America is.

How much it is a “shit hole.”

And how they never have a single damn positive thing to say about this part of the world.

Stereotypically, this person is imagined to be some fatass living in rural South Dakota having never their own country…

Let alone their own town…

And how they tend to imagine that “everywhere outside the US is terrible!”

I’ve seen people like this actually back in Iowa.

Their mindset is literally that every part of the world outside the US is dangerous.

Europe? Full of Islamic terrorists.

Middle East? Same thing.

China? Communists.

Japan? Nuclear radiation from those bombs we dropped a long time ago and they probably hate us for it.

South Korea? Too close to North Korea.

Australia? Kangaroos.

Kangaroos can be deadly you know….

Latin America? Gangbangers.

Africa? Gangbangers with AIDs & no food.

Iceland? Don’t they have volcanoes or shit?

So on and so on…

The only safe region these folks seem to have is Canada!

And, well, I wouldn’t want to go to Canada myself personally.

Don’t they have deadly giant moose?

Now, to be fair, I don’t endorse any of these stereotypes of these regions of the world.

I’m just telling you how literally some folks I’ve met think.

It’s not a majority of folks back home.

But it’s a group out there.

Though, if we are being honest, I don’t tend to think of this group when I think of “the hater.”

I tend to think of the type of gringo you meet in Latin America that can’t stop bitching about every little thing in this region.

And they never have a good thing to say about this part of the world.

Why they live here?

Who fucking knows.

But they’ll be the type to tell you how it’s very dangerous and you shouldn’t visit.

Either way…

Final Thoughts

That’s all I got to say for now.

Those are the groups that come to mind when it comes to different types of people giving advice on how “safe” or “dangerous” a particular area is.

Notice any groups that I didn’t mention here?

Drop any comment you have in the comment section below.

And follow my Twitter here.

Thanks for reading.

Best regards,


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