22 January 2023

Peru closes Machu Picchu indefinitely as anti-government protests grow

22 January 2023

Peru has indefinitely shut the tourist site Machu Picchu in the latest sign that anti-government protests are increasingly engulfing the South American country.

The government said it closed the country’s most famous tourist attraction, as well as the Inca Trail leading up to it, “to protect the safety of tourists and the population in general”.

Tourism minister Luis Fernando Helguero said more than 400 tourists are now stuck at Machu Picchu and unable to get out. The vast majority of them are foreigners.

The closure of the Incan citadel, which dates back to the 15th century and is often referred to as one of the new seven wonders of the world, came as protesters descended on the capital Lima, largely from remote Andean regions, to demand the resignation of President Dina Boluarte.

Police also acted on Saturday to evict protesters from far-away provinces who were being housed at San Marcos University campus in Lima while participating in the large demonstrations, which began in the capital on Thursday.

The protests had until recently been concentrated in the country’s south. They began last month shortly after president Pedro Castillo, Peru’s first leader with a rural Andean background, was impeached and imprisoned after he tried to dissolve Congress.

Demonstrators are demanding the resignation of Ms Boluarte, the former vice-president sworn into office on December 7 to replace Mr Castillo. They also want Congress dissolved and new elections held. Mr Castillo is currently detained on charges of rebellion.

More than 55 people have died in the ensuing unrest, with the latest death on Friday. A protester was killed and at least nine others were injured in clashes with police in the southern Puno region.

Javier Cutipa, 39, who had travelled from Puno, had been sleeping on the floor at the university since Thursday but had left to get breakfast just before the police arrived. He described the police action as “practically an assault”, with helicopters, tear gas and small tanks.

He said: “This outrages us. The only thing the government is doing with these detentions is worsening tensions.”

He added that “when the population finds out about this they’re going to react in a more radical fashion”.

Hundreds of protesters congregated outside the police offices where the detainees were being held on Saturday evening, chanting “Freedom” and “We’re students, not terrorists”. More congregated elsewhere in Lima.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights expressed “concern over the police incursion, eviction and massive detentions” at the university and urged the state to “guarantee the integrity and due process of all people”.

The university issued a news release saying the police raid took place after protesters “assaulted” security personnel.

On the tourists stuck at Machu Picchu, Mr Helguero said some have chosen to leave by walking to Piscacucho, the nearest village, “but that involves a walk of six, seven hours or more and only a few people are able to do it”.

The train service to Machu Picchu has been closed since Thursday due to damage to the tracks.

This is not the first time tourists have been stuck in Machu Picchu since the protests began.

Cusco, where Machu Picchu is located, has been the site of some of the most intense clashes between protesters and law enforcement, leading to significant loss of revenue for the tourism sector. Cusco airport was briefly shut down this week after protesters tried to storm its facilities.

Tourists who had tickets for Machu Picchu from Saturday until one month after the end of the protests will be able to obtain a full refund, the Culture Ministry said.

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