US tourists stranded near Machu Picchu may not be home for Christmas as protests grip Peru

Hundreds of tourists remain stranded in a village near the ruins of the mountain city of Machu Picchu as protests grip the country of Peru.

Americans, Europeans and South Americans cannot leave the town of Aguas Calientas, near the base of Machu Picchu, as the government has suspended train service indefinitely. Machu Picchu Mayor Darwin Baca said he is trying to set up helicopter transport to get them out, according to Axios.

“We have asked the government to help us and set up helicopter flights so we can evacuate the tourists,” Baca said.

Among the tourists trapped on the mountain are two Chicago police officers, a pregnant couple from Acworth, Georgia, and a Miami-Dade fire-rescue captain, who told Florida’s Local 10 that about 200 North -Americans remain in the city. Thousands more are unable to travel across the country because of the protests.

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“From what I understand, the rest of the country isn’t doing too well,” said Fire Rescue Capt. Brian Vega said. “They’re rioting, burning things.”

The protesters carry a sign that reads, "Closing of the copyist congress," amid violent protests following the impeachment and arrest of former president Pedro Castillo, in Ayacucho, Peru, on December 15, 2022.

Demonstrators hold a sign reading ‘Coup Congress Shutdown’, amid violent protests following the ouster and arrest of former President Pedro Castillo, in Ayacucho, Peru, on December 15, 2022.
(Reuters / Miguel Gutiérrez Chero)

Peruvian President Pedro Castillo on Wednesday dissolved the country’s Congress and called new elections ahead of a new attempt to remove him from office. He established a new emergency government and said he would make changes to the leadership of the judiciary, the police and the constitutional court.

The decision to impeach Castillo concerns allegations of corruption, with six investigations open against the president.

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Castillo’s actions, seen as an effort to preserve power, prompted Congress to impeach him outright and replace him with Dina Boluarte, his former vice president. The appointment proved incredibly unpopular, with many voters seeing Castillo as “one of us”, while Boluarte remains distant and unknown to them.

Boluarte sent in authorities to quell the protests, but that only led to an increase in violence, which left at least seven people dead on Thursday night, with more than 50 people injured. A judge ordered Castillo’s detention for up to 18 months while prosecutors prepared a case against him.

Protesters stand on the tarmac of an airport amid violent protests following the expulsion and arrest of former president Pedro Castillo, in Ayacucho, Peru, December 15, 2022. REUTERS/Miguel Gutierrez Chero.

Protesters stand on the tarmac of an airport amid violent protests following the expulsion and arrest of former president Pedro Castillo, in Ayacucho, Peru, December 15, 2022. REUTERS/Miguel Gutierrez Chero.
(Reuters / Miguel Gutiérrez Chero)

The demonstrators are now demanding Castillo’s freedom, Boluarte’s resignation and new elections to elect a president and congress. They have burned police stations, blocked highways and occupied airport runways.

Boluarte declared a state of emergency on Friday to curb the unrest and sent in the army to disperse the protests, bringing the death toll to more than 22, The New York Times reported.

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Two ministers resigned over the deaths of Peruvian citizens, and outgoing Education Minister Patricia Correa said the deaths of citizens at the hands of the government “have no justification.”

Vega said the unrest has left the country – and tourists – in a state of total chaos, with local authorities unable to tell him whether they can evacuate people for Christmas. He called on US lawmakers to come up with an airlift.

Soldiers stand in formation after arriving as reinforcements amid violent protests following the ouster and arrest of former president Pedro Castillo, in Ayacucho, Peru, December 15, 2022. REUTERS/Miguel Gutierrez Chero .

Soldiers stand in formation after arriving as reinforcements amid violent protests following the ouster and arrest of former president Pedro Castillo, in Ayacucho, Peru, December 15, 2022. REUTERS/Miguel Gutierrez Chero .
(Reuters / Miguel Gutiérrez Chero)

“Hopefully, they can help us in some way and get us safely back to the United States to see our friends and family,” he said.

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About 5,000 tourists are stuck in the city of Cusco as they wait for flights to resume, Machu Picchu’s mayor told the AFP news agency.

“What they are afraid of is arriving in Cusco and then not being able to go to their country, because that could get worse,” said the mayor.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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