Bolivia has been in and out of turmoil for a decade. Colombia always keeps guerrilla warlords or drug lords at bay. Venezuela has been a banned travel destination for almost a generation.
But Peru has been relatively calm since the 1980s, when the Sendero Luminoso waged war on the political establishment. It has also become a mainstream vacation destination, with 4.4 international visitors in 2019 and Machu Picchu alone attracting nearly 1.6 million. Amazon cruises, riverside vacations in the Tambopata National Reserve, and Lima’s culinary scene have all proven themselves to foreign tourists.
So what is he dealing with troubles now? The hard facts are that on December 7, 2022, Peruvian President Pedro Castillo, anticipating attempts by opponents to impeach him, announced the closure of Congress, introduced curfews and called for elections. He was then impeached anyway, for rebellion and conspiracy, and Vice President Dina Boluarte was sworn in.
The context of the crisis dates back to the end of 2016, when a breach opened between the executive and legislative powers. In 2018, then-president Pedro Pablo Kuczynski resigned following a vote-buying scandal. His successor announced anti-corruption reforms, dissolved Congress and called for snap elections. But he was impeached by Congress, led by Manuel Merino, who was in turn ousted five days later.
Peru has been unstable ever since, although tourism was not seriously affected until the pandemic arrived and shut down all parts of the country. The fact that Peru is one of the countries most affected by Covid-related deaths per capita is a reflection of the widespread poverty and social inequalities that underpin the current upheavals.
In November, thousands of protesters took to the streets of the Peruvian capital to demand Castillo’s resignation. But his expulsion led to widespread protests across the country, including roadblocks. Transport, agriculture and other unions, furious at rising fertilizer and fuel prices – the result of Western sanctions against Russia – are implicated. Political opponents and human rights groups also mobilized activists in reaction to Castillo’s putschist measures.
Some demonstrations have been violent and the situation can degenerate very quickly. At least seven people were killed following gunfire exchanged during clashes between police and protesters.
The most violent clashes take place in the southern departments of Apurimac and Arequipa – the areas that were the Sendero Luminoso’s power bases. One death has been confirmed in Chincheros, a province in the southern department of Apurimac – not to be confused with Chinchero near Cuzco, the site of an international airport project.
The impact on tourism
As is often the case with South American social conflicts, the tensions are largely removed from the main tourist areas. But not entirely. Arequipa, one of Peru’s most important cities, attracts a handful of foreign visitors and this week has seen the temporary closure of its airport.
More relevant for travelers has been the cancellation of flights to and from Cusco – the gateway to Machu Picchu, the disruption of tourist bus routes in southern Peru, and the closure of the railway that connects Cusco to Aguas Calientes, the closest town to Machu Picchu. , where tourists stay when visiting the Inca ruin.
The line was blocked by angry protesters, leaving some 800 tourists, some believed to be British, stranded with dwindling supplies.
Local officials have requested helicopters to help evacuate tourists, while the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) has confirmed it is providing consular assistance to British nationals in the country.
“Our hotel informed us that they were going to reduce food supplies and only offer eggs and coffee until supplies come to town because markets are low,” said Diane Thao, an American tourist in Aguas Calientes. .
Strikes earlier this year caused delays for some travelers in the Sacred Valley. In late July, the US Embassy in Peru informed visitors of the protests in Aguas Calientes. Last month there were demonstrations in Lima and Cuzco.
A 60-day state of emergency has been declared in the provinces of Abancay, Andahuaylas, Chincheros, Grau, Cotabambas, Antabamba and Aymaraes in the Apurimac region. The FCDO recommends that travelers or residents “follow the advice of the authorities and closely monitor the local media”. They also remind tourists “to avoid large gatherings and demonstrations”.
In a recent amendment, added Tuesday afternoon, the FCDO noted that protests “continue to take place in Apurimac, Arequipa, Cusco, Ica, along the Panamericana highway and elsewhere.”
The FCDO may update its information to advise against travel to Peru, if only temporarily. Such a move would see most tour operators cancel upcoming trips to the country, with customers who purchased a package entitled to a full refund. If the FCDO continues to advise against travel to Peru, normal booking conditions apply. However, if an itinerary were significantly affected by the disturbances – for example, a canceled trip to Machu Picchu – customers would have good reason to obtain at least a partial refund under the provisions of the Package Travel Regulations 2018 and related travel arrangements.
For independent travelers, the situation is more delicate. Regardless of the FCDO’s advice, they are unlikely to get a flight refund unless their airline cancels. Also, their hosting provider will have no obligation to return any money. Those who wish to continue their vacation despite an FCDO travel warning can do so, but may have their travel insurance invalidated.
In 2019, Peru’s international tourism receipts were £3.1 billion. Although the rainy season extends from November to April, it is a kind of second peak period for holidays, as Europeans and North Americans escape the winter and South Americans take their main holidays. of summer. The main peak is from April to October. After a few years of fallow, a shutdown or even a continuation of tensions and skirmishes in the streets and squares would be a kick in the teeth of operators, local guides, hotels and transport companies.
In June 1986, a bomb exploded on a crowded tourist train bound for Machu Picchu, killing seven people. In July 1992, a car bomb killed 25 people in Miraflores, the district of Lima where most foreign visitors stay. Peru’s tourist board and British tour operators will want to avoid such tragedies.
“It is certainly a difficult time for Peru, and we hope the political situation can be resolved quickly,” said Danny Callaghan, CEO of the UK-based Latin American Travel Association.
“With Peru’s tourism economy still recovering from the pandemic and the impact tourism is having on the broader economy, the uncertainty will only serve to prolong the recovery. These types of events underscore to again the importance of traveling as part of an organized tour with the infrastructure of a tour operator and local guides to keep tourists on the right and safe path.
“It seems possible that the FCDO will impose some kind of travel restrictions if the situation does not improve quickly, and I can only hope that any restrictions will be as short as necessary, and we will follow the matter closely. .”
An evolving situation
Peru has traditionally been a popular destination for British travelers to South America. At Journey Latin America, one of the largest specialty operators, visitor numbers have steadily increased throughout the year – although not yet reaching pre-pandemic levels. Interest in 2023 is strong.
Sarah Bradley, Executive Director of Journey Latin America, said, “We are clearly following the current protests closely. The government, led by the new president, has taken steps to restore order and ease tensions. However, this is an evolving situation and we will continue to monitor events carefully, together with our partners on the ground, to ensure that our customers are able to complete their routes safely and as planned.
The security situation elsewhere in South America
Brazil – There are ongoing protests by Bolsonaro supporters who dispute the results of the recent elections; On Monday, a group attempted to invade the federal police headquarters in the capital Brasilia.
Venezuela – Crime, prolonged power cuts, water and fuel shortages and occasional outbreaks of violence continue to plague this country. The FCDO advises against “all but essential travel” to Venezuela and classifies border regions as prohibited “red” zones.
Argentina – Argentinians are facing the highest inflation in three decades and one of the highest in the world, possibly reaching 100% by the end of the year.
Colombia – Although some parts of the country are still prohibited, the FCDO considers that the majority of Colombia is safe to visit. The government is in peace talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN) rebel group.
Bolivia – While the country is calmer than during the period following the ouster of President Evo Morales in November 2019, strikes and riots erupted last month in response to a census that would shift economic and political power from La Paz down to Santa Claus. Cruz.