19 Dec 2022

New Zealander living in Peru fears political unrest 'could end up quite badly'

6:02 pm on 19 December 2022
Workers attempt to remove a rock placed by rioters on the railway track to block the train's passage to and from the Inca citadel of Machu Picchu in Ollantaytambo, Peru, on December 17, 2022. - Around 5,000 tourists have been left stranded in Cusco, the gateway city to Peru's top attraction Machu Picchu, by deadly protests against the ousting of president Pedro Castillo, a local mayor said on Friday. Rail service to Machu Picchu has been suspended since Tuesday. (Photo by MARTIN BERNETTI / AFP)

Workers try and remove a rock placed by protesters on the railway track near Machu Picchu in Ollantaytambo, Peru, on 17 December, 2022. Photo: AFP

A New Zealander living and working in Peru says protests in the country are out of control, and everyone is scared.

Over the weekend, the train that carries visitors to Machu Picchu suspended the service due to protesters blocking the rail with boulders, leaving hundreds of tourists stranded in the village of Aguas Calientes - at the foot of the tourist jewel.

The violent protests were sparked by the dismissal of former president Pedro Castillo, who was detained after he tried to illegally dissolve congress and announced he would rule by decree.

Patrick Emanuel

Patrick Emanuel Photo: Supplied / Patrick Emanuel

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said there were 46 New Zealanders registered as being in Peru, but the number could be higher.

Originally from Nelson, Patrick Emanuel has lived in Lima for the past five years.

People were afraid of leaving their houses, he said.

"There's a lot of fear to be honest, people are cancelling activities, cancelling trips away. People are cautious.

"It's a constantly changing situation, I think it's equally possible that things could end up quite badly."

After the country declared a state of emergency, military force became heavier on the streets, Emanuel said.

"Some places sort of closed down and they have a curfew from 6pm to 6 in the morning. During those times you can't really go outside unless it is something urgent, like medical care."

A supporter of former Peruvian President Pedro Castillo shout slogans to riot police during a protest to demand the resignation of President Dina Boluarte, Castillo's release, and Congress's closure in Lima on December 17, 2022. - Peru's embattled President Dina Boluarte said Saturday she would not step down in the face of violent protests over her predecessor's ouster as she called on lawmakers to bring forward elections as a way to quell unrest. (Photo by Lucas AGUAYO / AFP)

A supporter of former Peruvian president Pedro Castillo shout at riot police, in Lima on 17 December, 2022. Photo: AFP

In places like Arequipa, south of Lima, the situation was worse, with conflicts between the military and the protesters damaging the airport and creating chaos, he said.

"It has been more hostile confrontation between the military and the protesters in some places and that's resulting in quite a few casualties."

A tourist who was at Machu Picchu over the weekend said after the train track was damaged by protesters, people started the almost 10km journey back to the village on foot.

"We had lined up walking out ourselves, and all of a sudden this train got available, and we got on it, so [we're] feeling very fortunate," she said.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade said in a statement the New Zealand Embassy in Chile - which is accredited to Peru - has been working with several groups affected by the disruptions.

It said all groups the ministry was aware of who were in Peru were now either safely out of the affected areas or sheltering in place in Cusco waiting for flight departures.

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