Travel firms begin evacuating Israelis stranded in Peru amid deadly unrest

Companies launch operation to escort dozens trapped near Machu Picchu to city of Cusco, as protesters demand release of ousted president

Israelis evacuating on foot from Aguas Calientes, amid deadly protests in Peru, December 17, 2022. (Facebook video screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)
Israelis evacuating on foot from Aguas Calientes, amid deadly protests in Peru, December 17, 2022. (Facebook video screenshot: used in accordance with Clause 27a of the Copyright Law)

Israeli travel insurers said Saturday they had launched an operation to rescue tourists stranded in Peru, amid deadly unrest sparked by the ousting of the country’s president last week.

Travel insurance company Passportcard and MAGNUS International Search and Rescue said that tourists stuck near Aguas Calientes — a town near the ancient Incan citadel of Machu Picchu — were taking a 10-kilometer (6-mile) long trek escorted by the firms’ guides on foot to a hydroelectrical facility, where they will then take a six-hour drive to the city of Cusco.

“The headquarters of Passportcard in Netanya and the MAGNUS emergency response team in Tel Aviv are closely following all steps of the rescue, and are in constant contact with security and officials in the field,” the companies said, adding they would give more information when all Israelis arrive at their destination.

The rail service that serves Machu Picchu has been suspended since Tuesday, leaving around 800 tourists in total stranded in the small town. Several airports around the country have also been closed, including the international terminal in Cusco, which acts as the gateway city to Machu Picchu.

Cusco’s airport is the third largest in Peru and serves numerous tourist sites in the region.

It has been closed since Monday when protesters tried to storm the terminal, leaving thousands of tourists in limbo.

“There are 5,000 tourists stranded in the city of Cusco, they are in their hotels waiting for flights to restart,” Darwin Baca, mayor of the nearby town of Machu Picchu, told AFP.

The Foreign Ministry warned Israelis in Peru “to avoid crowds, places where demonstrations are held, and to be attentive to media and messages from the Foreign Ministry” due to the ongoing situation.

“We emphasize that in certain areas of the country, especially in the Cusco region and around Machu Picchu, there are roadblocks and restrictions on movement, entry, and exit from the area, since the train system and some airports are not running,” the ministry said in a statement.

Israeli tourist Aviv Gilad, who was evacuated on Friday, wrote to the Ynet news site that he and his friends had embarked on a 30-kilometer (18-mile) walk lasting nine and a half hours along train tracks and rivers, and then were escorted by police for two and a half hours to Cusco.

Gilad said that along the way he noticed train tracks and roads were blocked by rocks, likely placed by protesters in an effort to paralyze the country.

Yael Hadad, another tourist stranded in Aguas Calientes, told Channel 12 news she was keen to be evacuated, noting that food had begun to run out in the area.

“Soon we will begin to walk. We will be accompanied by local police in order to be safe. Mainly we are happy to leave for Cusco because they are starting to run out of food here,”  she said.

Israeli tourist Revital Vinitsky, who was staying in Cusco, told Channel 12 that her flight to the country’s capital Lima was canceled in the morning, leaving her stuck in the city.

“I went to the airline company offices because they don’t answer the phone. They don’t know English, they speak Spanish to us and there’s nothing for us to talk about,” she said.

“I recently contacted the [Israeli] embassy in Peru in order to understand what to expect, if there’s anything to expect and if they are willing to help. They mainly told us to wait because they themselves don’t know.”

Peru was plunged into a political crisis last week after President Pedro Castillo was impeached and arrested following his attempt to dissolve parliament and rule by decree.

Supporters of Peruvian former president Pedro Castillo clash with the police to reach the Lima Prefecture, where Castillo was under detention, in Lima, on December 7, 2022. (Photo by ERNESTO BENAVIDES / AFP)

Protesters have poured onto the streets and are demanding the release of ousted Castillo and the resignation of his successor Dina Boluarte, and for fresh elections to be held.

Health minister Rosa Gutierrez said on Friday that 18 people had been killed in clashes since Castillo was arrested on December 7, with two cabinet ministers resigning over the deaths.

The leftist former schoolteacher stands accused of rebellion and conspiracy, and could be jailed for up to 10 years if found guilty, according to public prosecutor Alcides Diaz.

An army helicopter is also due to arrive at Machu Picchu on Saturday to begin shuttling stranded tourists to Cusco, town officials said.

Around 200 mostly American and European tourists have left the town on foot along the train tracks in a bid to reach the town of Ollantaytambo, 30 kilometers (20 miles) away, from where they would be able to take a train to Cusco.

“What they fear is getting to Cusco and then not being able to go to their country because this could get worse,” said Baca.

Several major roads in Cusco, the old Inca capital, have also been blocked by protesters, as have more than 100 roads around the country.

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