Political Risk Latin America Blog @PolRiskLatam

Fear and loathing in las Américas

Posted in News and Articles, Political Risk by politicalrisklatam on October 19, 2010

by T.W. for The EconomistAmericas View, October 18th, 2010.

Don’t go to the central market—it’s much too dangerous. Steer clear of Easter in Iztapalapa—it’s full of robbers. Best to stay at home for the bicentennial celebrations—those crowds could turn nasty. Every time your correspondent floats the idea of leaving his city’s swanky central neighbourhoods, a chorus of friends and colleagues issues a stream of dire warnings. Are rich Latin Americans unusually fearful of the poor?

Admittedly, they have good reason to be nervous about safety. Crime runs pretty high in much of the region, and in some countries the drugs business has fed the growth of nasty sidelines such as kidnapping. I’m more cautious here myself than in Britain. But the number of well-intentioned warnings I’ve been given about even fairly safe places makes me wonder if, sometimes, the fear owes something to the lack of contact between the well-off and not-so-well-off in this part of the world.

Certainly rich and poor have less in common here than they do in most places. If you draw up a list of countries ranked according to the Gini coefficient, a measure of the gap between haves and have-nots, Latin America takes 11 of the top 20 places. Mexico City is home to both the world’s richest man and to people who lack clean water, and their paths seldom cross. Wealthy neighbourhoods are gated and guarded; their children are driven to equally cocooned schools. If you live in such a neighbourhood, the only time you might hear anything about a poor part of the city is on television or in the papers, which unsurprisingly tend to highlight the gruesome bits. (continue reading… )

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