In the course of promoting my guidebooks to the Southern Cone countries, I often give slide talks at bookstores, libraries, and other venues, followed by a question and answer session. Given how little some first-timers know about South America--it's often stereotypes of drug-dealers and military coupmongers--one matter that comes up frequently is personal safety.
Traveling to an unfamiliar destination always raises questions, and certainly there are dangerous places in South America, but it's a diverse continent and there's great variability even within countries. To choose an extreme example, I'd never recommend backpacking into remote areas controlled by Colombia's FARC guerrillas. Yet I wouldn't hesitate to urge travelers to visit the colonial Caribbean port of Cartagena, a UNESCO World Heritage Site that hosted Travel Mart Latin America last September (this year's event will take place in Quito, Ecuador). If Cartagena weren't safe for tourists, Hilton, Sofitel, and other luxury hotels wouldn't be investing there.
Anyone intending to visit the Southern Cone might want to note that Latin Business Chronicle today issued a report that rated Chile, Costa Rica and Uruguay as Latin America's safest countries. Since I don't care to pay US$399 per year for a subscription--I get their free newsletter with summary coverage--I don't know where they rated Argentina, but my own feeling is that it shouldn't fall far below the other three.
A couple years ago, while I was giving a talk on Buenos Aires in Southern California, this very topic came up with respect to the Argentine capital. Given that we were in Los Angeles, my first impulsive response was that "In Buenos Aires, there are no drive-by shootings."