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It turns out Wikipedia has an article with a map Central America seems to prefer español whereas South America mostly prefers castellano. But I don't know how accurate that map is. If we look at the map's history we see that some countries changed from red to blue or vice versa with no sources given.
I agree that it depends a lot on the country and even region. In some places I have seen "cariño" used among close frinds, mostly women. Also I have it seen used to mark distance (a superior woman calling an inferior "cariño" as a sign of superiority like the one has over her children).
It depends highly on Country (e.g. in Chile it would be acceptable, in Argentina the word is not very much used in this sense) Socioeconomic level (amongst high-middle class it would be acceptable) Sexism awareness So I'd ask directly if the use would be OK among your group.
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