Why did the United States recommend not traveling to Colombia?

The United States pointed Colombia as "a country that must be traveled with caution". Therefore, the country announced a travel alert, warning citizens not to travel to four departments in Colombia because of the dangers they may be exposed to.

According to the statement, it is recommended that Americans shouldn’t visit the departments of Arauca, Cauca, Choco and Norte de Santander for crime and terrorism present in those zones.

According to the US government, this recommendation is made due to the presence and actions of the guerrilla group ELN in these areas. ELN can continue to "plan possible attacks in the country."

Thus, North American government assured that in these departments, organized criminal activities are widespread. Additionally, the ELN can "attack with little or no warning, targeting tourist sites, transportation centers, markets/ shopping centers, local government facilities, hotels, clubs, restaurants, places of worship, parks, sporting and cultural events, institutions educational, airports, and other public areas".

Under the same framework, US asks its citizens to reconsider travelling to Antioquia, Caqueta, Casanare, Cesar (with high precautions in Valledupar), Cordoba, Guainia, Guaviare, Meta, Nariño, Putumayo, Valle del Cauca (with high precautions in Cali), Vaupes, and Vichada.

This warning was made, in accordance to the Department of State, because "violent crimes, such as homicides, assaults and armed robberies, are common." Organized criminal activities, such as extortion, robbery and kidnapping get a ransom, are very widespread. "

Likewise, the US government suggested tourists to be alert to local media to detect events. Furthermore, it recalled that it can provide very little assistance in these areas because staff in the country is prohibited to visit those places without first receiving the approval of the Regional Security Service for Embassies.
In this way, the State Department advised not traveling to 17 departments of the country, mostly located in the south east, southwest, and the Atlantic Coast. These departments represent more than half of the country. However, it should be noted that these areas were already banned in other editions of the "travel warning".

The US also pinpointed that "the Colombian government has not yet signed a peace agreement with the ELN". The declaration is made precisely when President Juan Manuel Santos asked Gustavo Bell, chief peace negotiator in the dialogues with the illegal group, to return from Quito (Ecuador). This request was made to evaluate negotiations with the guerrillas, due to the attacks in January 9 in Casanare and Arauca shortly after the end of the bilateral ceasefire.

It is important to highlight that the Colombian Government and the ELN had planned to begin the fifth round of peace negotiations on January 10. The Government had expressed its expectations to extend the bilateral cease, but due to the attacks, it decided to evaluate the situation of the negotiations.

The new alert system

This warning is produced under a new system of alerts which evaluates the risk of visiting other countries. This new system has four categories to evaluate all the countries of the world. The first category is "Take Normal Precautions"; the second is known as "Exercise Elevated Caution"; the third is  named "Reconsider the Trip"; the fourth is "Do not Travel".

Michelle Bernier-Toth, assistant deputy in the Bureau for Consular Affairs, said the new system is to simplify the process and keep travelers and tourists better informed about the risks they may face. Thus, the old "travel warning" that was issued periodically and only for countries with a specific risk was replaced.

Latin American countries were ranked in the categories as follows:

  • Level 1: Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Paraguay, Perú and Uruguay.
  • Level 2: México, Colombia, Nicaragua, República Dominicana and Guyana.
    If Americans want to travel to Brazilian beaches, it is recommended not to go to certain neighborhoods. Nor do they encourage the trip to a 150-kilometer strip along the border with Venezuela, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, and Paraguay.
  • Level 3: Cuba, Venezuela, Haiti, Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador.
    In this classification, Cuba is excluded from the "do not travel" category, and it was added a warning in relation to Venezuela: "There are areas with even higher security risks".
  • Level 4: Within this level there is no Latin American country, and eleven countries have been identified: North Korea, Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, South Sudan, Central African Republic, Libya and Mali.

LatinAmerican Post | Dayana Martínez

Copy edited by Marcela Peñaloza

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