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2013-02-18

Global Terrorism Index Says Latin America is Mostly Safe from Terrorists

A Colombian soldier guards the area where a car bomb exploded in Bogotá — an attack blamed on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). [AFP/Luís Acosta]

A Colombian soldier guards the area where a car bomb exploded in Bogotá — an attack blamed on the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). [AFP/Luís Acosta]

By Martin Sieff

The latest Global Terrorism Index (GTI), produced by Australia’s Institute for Economics & Peace, offers good news for Latin America. The report says that apart from Colombia, Latin America is among the world’s regions least likely to suffer a terrorist attack.

The latest edition of the index, published Dec. 4, ranks 158 countries based on their exposure to incidents of international terrorism. In all of South America, it said, only Colombia was a significant target of terrorist attacks.

Brazil, with nearly 200 million inhabitants, had none at all listed. No Latin American country made it to the top 10 list, and aside from Colombia — which ranked 13th in the number of terrorist attacks — no country in the region was among GTI’s top 30.

“Surprisingly, low-income countries are less affected by terrorism than lower middle-income countries, indicating that poverty is not necessarily a main cause of terrorism,” said a GTI press release. “Private citizens and property are the most common targets of terrorism while the military is targeted in only 4 percent of attacks. The United States, Algeria and Colombia had the biggest improvements over the last 10 years.”

The GTI report confirmed the assessment of the U.S. State Department Country Reports on Terrorism in 2011. That study, released last year, recorded a rise in terrorist attacks perpetrated by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a communist rebel group. But Colombia was the only nation in South America reporting a significant increase in the number of attacks and casualties; throughout the rest of the continent, both figures remained negligible.

Uruguay at lowest risk of terrorist activity

At the other end of the spectrum was Uruguay, which ranked 156th out of 158 in terror risk, with a zero rating on the GTI list. Other countries with a zero rating included Brazil, Nicaragua, Cuba, Costa Rica, Guatemala, El Salvador, Panama and the Dominican Republic.

Even Mexico — where war between the federal government and powerful drug cartels in northern Mexico near the U.S. border continues to claim thousands of lives every year — was virtually free of terror attacks that were not drug-related, said the report.

In fact, Mexico enjoyed the same overall regional assessment as the United States, making North America the world region safest from the threat of terrorism.

Some analysts cautioned that Latin America cannot continue to take its virtual freedom from terrorist attacks for granted. They caution that Iran as well as Islamist extremist groups such as Hezbollah have been seeking to increase their influence in the region.

Venezuela accused of aiding Hezbollah cells

In October 2011, former U.S. diplomat Roger Noriega and political consultant José R. Cárdenas published a paper entitled “The Mounting Hezbollah Threat in Latin America.” The paper, disseminated through the American Enterprise Institute — a Washington-based conservative think tank — warns that President Hugo Chávez is turning Venezuela into a “safe haven” for Lebanon’s Hezbollah terrorist group in the Western Hemisphere.

However, in an August 2012 article published in the Christian Science Monitor, analyst Geoffrey Ramsey of InSight Crime argued that many of the concerns expressed by critics like Noriega and Cárdenas are exaggerated or even completely unjustified.

The GTI is based on data from the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) of the National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START). Its backers claim it is the most comprehensive database on terrorist activity anywhere, with over 104,000 cases of terrorist attacks codified.

The Global Terrorism Index — which strictly focuses on acts of terror rather than violence associated with drug cartels and organized crime syndicates — ranks countries based on the following four indicators weighted over five years: Number of terrorist incidents committed within a country, number of terrorist-related fatalities, number of injuries from terrorism and estimated cost of property damages caused by all acts of terrorism.

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