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In Latin America Travel, Considering Safety Before Fun

In Latin America Travel, Considering Safety Before Fun

Posted by Juan Gavasa on September 17, 2014

Monica Drake is editor of the Travel section. She shared her thoughts on last weekend’s annual Latin America edition. Every year, our Latin America issue raises a question. Some news has happened in some country, and we must decide whether to ignore it, or to acknowledge it and play it up.

Last year the question was about Cuba opening up. (We played that up.)

The year before that, we wondered if there was any room to cover Venezuela as a travel destination just before its election. (We ignored it.)

But the perennial question, raised by readers inside and outside the building, is: “Is it safe?” Should we encourage travelers to go to a country rife with corruption, or a region where drug cartels seem to function as law, or simply a place that is so impoverished its own residents are making their way to our borders in hopes of refuge?

This quandary — which we also ask ourselves when covering destinations from the Middle East to Eastern Europe to Uganda — always brings to my mind a TED talk given in 2007 by Chris Abani, the Nigerian novelist, about the stories of Africa. He makes the case that the narrative of a place drawn strictly from news does not capture the whole of the place. As an example, he cites the view of America as a country whose citizens lack adequate health care and whose president prosecutes a war over the protest of its citizens and members of Congress. That perspective is obviously very much a limited perspective of this vast and complicated country.

Of course the Travel section doesn’t publish fiction, but literary nonfiction and feature writing can add more meat to a narrative solely shaped by news. Hence a story on traveling off the beaten path in Mexico this year. And another on Argentina, known for soccer more than danger, yet certainly not known for its African cultural roots. And another on traveling to Ecuador, not as a tourist but to visit a parent’s homeland.

We’re always interested in finding the counternarrative here, and our Latin America issue is an annual reminder to take up the challenge. It’s a feature editor’s dream, to focus in on a region simply bursting with untold stories.

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