As Peru’s Unrest Chases Away Visitors, Many Fear for Their Livelihood

LIMA, Peru — As protests unfolded in Peru this month, hundreds of foreign tourists were stranded near Machu Picchu, the ancient Inca site that has become the number one tourist attraction. of the Andean country.

However, in recent days, visitors can finally go home, after suspend protests reopening the airport and nearby roads to allow food and tourists to pass through.

But as they leave the country, potential travelers cancel their trips, and a new regional and perhaps nationwide strike is underway, the sudden shutdown of the tourism industry has struck a chord. a heavy blow to tens of thousands of Peruvians whose livelihoods depend on the tourist economy.

Nancy Bautista, 41, a tour guide with two children in Cusco, Machu Picchu’s hometown, said it wasn’t just “people started canceling”. Shortly after the tourists left, protesters again closed roads in the surrounding area, causing fuel and food shortages.

That is just one example of the financial damage that more than 10 days of nationwide unrest has caused to the people of Peru. Ms. Bautista said that while Cusco felt peaceful on Monday, chicken supplies in the city were running low. The beef was sold out. Gas prices skyrocketed.

The challenge to supply essentials is causing widespread concern in a region where the worst drought in more than 50 years and high fertilizer prices have created food shortages.

In the province of Cusco, with the capital of the same name, many people struggle to have enough to eat, with almost 20 percent of children According to government data, children under the age of 5 face chronic malnutrition.

Ms. Bautista said Cusco has about 2,000 tour companies, more than 1,000 hotels and 25 rural communities that rely on tourism, but the past few days have been like the arduous months of the pandemic without visitors.

She added: “With all this, it goes back to a time when everything was uncertain.

Historians believe that Machu Picchu, built by the Incas before the arrival of the Spaniards, was built in the 15th century to possibly be a royal estate or sacred religious site, although the purpose Its exact destination has yet to be determined.

Tourism to the site began to grow in 1983 when UNESCO declared the area a world heritage site.

The surrounding area, known as the Sacred Valley, has also seen a dramatic increase in tourist arrivals in recent decades.

In 2019, the number of visitors to Machu Picchu reached 1.5 million people, most of them foreigners. The number of tourists soars that many fear its physical integrity, and the government begins to restrict entry.

But Rolando Mendoza, Cusco’s head of tourism, said the tourism industry in the region had been hit hard by the pandemic and the government’s strict lockdown, and was still recovering when the protests began.

This year, officials were hoping for at least a million visitors. Mendoza estimates that because of the protests, there will be between 700,000 and 800,000 visitors by the end of the year.

Protests erupted in Peru in early December after the country’s leftist leader, Pedro Castillo, attempted to dissolve Congress and form a new government that would rule by decree — actions that lie within beyond the limits set by the constitution for the president.

The move was widely condemned as a coup attempt and Mr Castillo was soon arrested on sedition charges. His vice president, Dina Boluarte, a former ally, soon took office.

But Mr. Castillo’s supporters, many of them from poor rural areas, took to the streets to demand a new general election, with many calling for compensation for his damages, sometimes when closing highways with burning tires, vandalizing government buildings and throwing stones into the streets. street.

According to the national ombudsman’s office, at least 26 people have died as a result of the protests, and various human rights groups, including Amnesty International, have accused the police and military of using force. disproportionate to the protesters.

During clashes between the army and protesters on Thursday in the city of Ayacucho, nine protesters were killed, including a 15-year-old boy.

According to the inspector, at least 356 civilians and 290 policemen were injured during the protests.

By Monday, the number of protests had dwindled across the country, although groups are calling for a new strike starting this week, making it unclear whether the country has ended the unrest. just a short break.

Since taking office, Ms. Boluarte, a leftist from a largely poor region, has tried to strike a conciliatory tone, calling for unity in a deeply divided and developing nation. He spoke to the nation in Quechua, the native language spoken by many of Castillo’s supporters. .

But she has also declared a state of emergency, suspended many civil liberties and sent troops to the streets in some places — actions that appear to be driving the very protesters she is trying to calm down. shunned.

On Sunday, in an interview with the national press, Ms speak that protesters’ deaths should be investigated by the military’s justice system rather than by prosecutors, a move that could mean lighter sentences for soldiers accused of abuse . The statement was immediately criticized by legal expertswho said a previous case in the Supreme Court, as well as international law, has made it clear that allegations of human rights violations should be investigated in the civil system.

A day earlier, the country’s counterterrorism police raided the offices of a left-wing party and of a campesino organization in downtown Lima, arresting several protesters for hours.

Police accused them of planning to commit violence at the protests, showing reporters weapons such as slingshots and machetes confiscated from protesters, although protesters said that these have been planted. Human rights groups have denounced the raids as an illegal intimidation tactic by the authorities.

As the raid unfolded, Ms Boluarte addressed the crisis in a televised presentation to the head of the armed forces, a figure said to focus solely on external threats. in Peru.

“I am very sorry for the deaths of these people,” she speaks, talking about dead protesters. “We are building bridges so we can meet the leaders of these social movements. But in violence you cannot dialogue. Calm.”

Barring the possibility of Mr. Castillo being reinstated, protesters have called for new elections to be held as quickly as possible, while Congress recently voted against an attempt to move them to September. December 2023, ahead of the scheduled 2026 deadline.

an Ipsos poll for American Television released on Sunday found that about 85% of respondents support new general elections and 33% also support what the poll called Mr. Castillo’s “coup”, a the number has increased to 52% in rural Peru.

Another poll found just 17% satisfied with how Peru’s democracy is performing, the lowest level since at least 2006.

Even among those whose livelihoods have been affected by the protests, there is some support.

In interviews, people working in the area’s tourism industry said they sympathize with the protesters’ motives, although they disagree with the violence and hope that a resolution will soon be found.

David Mora, 41, who runs a small travel agency, said: “Among friends who work in tourism, we talk and there is always concern about possible political issues. lead to these types of blockades.

“But these strikes are very aggressive,” he added. “These are no ordinary protests, and there has been a lot of repression from the authorities, police and military.”

Mitra Taj reports from Lima, Peru; Genevieve Glatsky from Philadelphia; and Julie Turkewitz from Ayacucho, Peru.


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