This weekend, hundreds of international tourists, a number of them American, found themselves stranded high in the Andes Mountains in and around Machu Picchu for several days, due to the wave of civil unrest that’s erupted in Peru.
Violent protests broke out in support of Peruvian President Pedro Castillo, who was ousted from power and arrested on December 7, according to Reuters. The deposed leader had sought to illegally dissolve parliament in an effort to avoid a potential impeachment vote, which he feared he would lose.
Amid the ensuing upheaval, at least 20 people have lost their lives, and more than 500 demonstrators and security officers have been injured, according to the Associated Press. In response, the government declared a 30-day state of national emergency on Wednesday, suspending the rights of the populace to gather and move freely around the country.
Rioters have set fire to buildings, taken over airports, and blocked highways and roads. Photographs and eyewitness reports indicate that incensed protestors had likewise blocked the train tracks leading to the ancient Incan citadel with boulders and downed trees. This left hundreds of foreign visitors with no transport out of the UNESCO World Heritage site or means of reaching an airport almost 50 miles away.
Per an update issued Friday by the U.S. Embassy in Peru, the Peruvian government was organizing an evacuation of the most vulnerable foreign tourists trapped in Machu Picchu Aguas Calientes (gateway town to the mountaintop citadel) via four helicopters.
#Arequipa ¡Acción en las regiones! Más de 450 pasajeros de nacionalidad peruana y extranjera fueron trasladados en vuelos humanitarios. Fuerza Aérea del Perú continua alerta para seguir brindando apoyo a la población afectada. #PerúEnPazpic.twitter.com/o3xMnbW3z7
— Mindef Perú (@MindefPeru) December 18, 2022
Then, today, NBC News reported that the tourism police had managed to move roughly 400 tourists to the Ollantaytambo district, northwest of Cusco, afterward taking them by bus to the international airport. The Peruvian Defense Ministry told the U.S. embassy that it had plans to “facilitate humanitarian flights”, prioritizing repatriation of the elderly and most vulnerable.
On Saturday, the embassy also reported that limited rail service had resumed to help transport other international visitors stranded in the area, with trains able to take passengers to a “designated point on the railway”, after which they’d need to make their way to Cusco using other vehicles. Rail departures were set to be coordinated by Peru’s Ministry of Foreign Trade and Tourism (MINCETUR) and iPeru, the Andean nation’s travel assistance program.
While other airports remain closed, Cusco’s Alejandro Velasco Astete Airport (CUZ), “is open and flights are departing at a normal volume,” the embassy said in its statement, and, “most travelers report that they have been able to secure flights out over the next two days.” It also cautioned, “Travelers should not travel to the airport until they have a confirmed flight that indicates it will depart on time.”
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