Empty, the entrance gate to Machu Picchu, Peru, is the portrait of a country where violent protests have scared off tourists since December 2022, which affects entire communities that depend on the sector.
“Look, there’s nothing, it’s empty,” says Juan Pablo Huanacchini Mamani, the “Inca,” who serves tourists dressed in traditional clothing made of colorful fabrics, sandals and golden ornaments that sparkle in the sun.
The economy of the Andean country is mainly based on tourism, an important source of employment that attracted around 4.5 million visitors before the pandemic.
Since the beginning of December, however, a new challenge has arisen in Ollantaytambo, a town about 60 kilometers from Cusco and close to Machu Picchu, where around four thousand visitors arrive daily during the high season. Protests, which have rocked the country ever since and left 58 dead, have slowed the flow of visitors.
The demonstrations call for the resignation of President Dina Boluarte, who took office after the dismissal and imprisonment of former President Pedro Castillo.
Amidst the protests, the city that used to welcome thousands of visitors only sees around 100 people arrive on weekends. These are the only two days allowed by the protesters, a concession so that the inhabitants can survive. In addition, on January 21, Peru closed the entrance to Machu Picchu, citing security reasons.
“We live on tourism (…) Now we are short of people. When there is tourism, all our people work in hotels, restaurants, agriculture is moving”, says Juan Pablo. Today, he adds, they are living in a ” deep crisis”.
According to data from the Ministry of Tourism, the crisis is costing US$ 6.5 million a day (R$ 32,431 million), with an 83% drop in hotel occupancy.
The regional director of tourism, Abel Alberto Matto Leiva, explains that, in Cusco, “75% of the population works directly or indirectly with tourism” in “a chain” that includes “2,500 travel agencies”, food, accommodation and transport .
At the moment, 20,000 people are unemployed, a number that, according to him, “continues to increase”, with projections of reaching around 120,000 by March.
In the midst of the crisis, around 14,000 local artisans are likely to have their opportunities drastically reduced, say the authorities, which also represents thousands of traders with little or no income.
Without any kind of help, artisans feel “totally forgotten,” says Filomena Quispe, 67, 35 of whom sell crafts in a small shop near Cusco’s Plaza de Armas.
The situation also makes many establishment owners choose not to open their doors, to cut costs.
“We are in free fall and we don’t know when it will stop”, regrets the vice president of the Hotel Chamber of Cusco, Henry Yabar, who also closed his establishment, a three-star hotel with about 15 rooms.
Yabar claims that the political crisis has dealt a “fatal” blow to tourism and reports that there have been “95% cancellations” in hotel reservations. According to him, of the 12,000 hotels and inns in Cusco, “between 25% and 30% (the smaller ones) have already gone bankrupt”.
He said he expected the state to put an emergency plan in place and make tax concessions for those affected by the situation.
“We hope for an improvement in July”, adds Yabar, who adds: “for those who survive”.
Elected in 2021 and representative of the most popular classes in the Andean nation, Pedro Castillo led a crisis government, with frequent ministerial reconfigurations. In December, he ordered the dissolution of Parliament, in a process that went against the steps and conditions set out in the Peruvian Magna Carta. Thus, the movement of the now ex-president was considered a coup attempt – he was arrested.
Since then, protesters from rural sectors have taken to the streets to demand the release of Castillo, the departure of Dina Boluarte —the vice-president of the former president who took office after his departure—, the anticipation of general elections and the opening of an Assembly Constituent Assembly to create a new Constitution.
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