Security is only a minor concern for upcoming ICANN meeting in Colombia.
My image of Colombia is colored by the past. It’s an image of the days of Pablo Escobar, rampant kidnappings, crime, and guerrillas forces. It’s shaped by books such as Mark Bowden’s Killing Pablo and the 2000 film Proof of Life.
So when ICANN announced its December meeting would be held in Cartagena, Colombia, my first thought was “here we go again”. Another Nairobi. Another Mexico.
And I was a bit skeptical of Colombia’s new tourism slogan, “Colombia, the only risk is wanting to stay.”
Sure, or getting kidnapped and staying against your will.
But the Proexport – Vice Presidency of Tourism group assured me Colombia is a changed country: Tourism grew over 10% last year while worldwide tourism was down. Terrorist activity has been reduced to a fifth of what it used to be five years ago. Kidnappings are a third of what they used to be eight years ago. Over the past 10 years, the Colombian Public Force has doubled, becoming the largest and most well trained force in Latin America.
Just PR spin? I contacted ASI Group, a travel security and global risk intelligence company, to confirm what I’d been told.
“Improvements made over the last decade are really significant,” said Shanna Wayhan, ASI Group Intelligence Analyst for South America. She explained that the country had turned the corner ever since President Alvaro Uribe took office and the rebel movement has been in decline ever since.
And while crime and kidnapping continue to be a threat overall in Colombia, the numbers have diminished significantly. Wayhan points to May’s official kidnapping count of just five people across the country. Compare that to May 2002, when there were 302 reported kidnappings. The rebel group FARC continues to be the biggest perpetrator, but most of its activity is in rural locations.
Making things even safer for ICANN travelers is the location of the event in Cartagena. Multiple airlines fly directly into this safe tourist city, which has largely escaped the issues the rest of the country has faced over the years. Even if you have to fly through Bogota, you’ll stay within the safe confines of the airport.
In fact, anyone who traveled to the ICANN meeting in Mexico City shouldn’t even pause about attending this conference. Dan Johnson, Senior Chief of Operations at ASI Global (a Kidnap & Ransom Response affiliate) said, “Between Mexico and Columbia right now, I’d go to Colombia in a minute.”
“Columbia has a well deserved reputation for poor security based on what happened 15-20 years ago,” continued Johnson, “but the government has made significant strides that should be a model for other countries.”
Wayhan said there aren’t any specific security concerns with taxis in Cartagena, either, like there are in Mexico City.
Of course, ASI suggests taking normal security precautions. Be careful after dark and when traveling outside the tourist areas. Don’t walk alone in a dark alley. In other words, take the same security precautions you’d do in the typical U.S. city.