Peruvian Riots Close Machu Picchu Temporarily

By Meg Winston / News Reporter

One of the seven wonders of the world and a popular tourist destination for decades, Machu Picchu is one of, if not the most defining feature of ancient Incan culture, and presently, Peru. Though Peru’s recent political unrest caused the five-hundred year old construction to be closed ‘indefinitely,’ protests’ recent relocation to Lima reopened the site.

Peru’s political landscape has not always been smooth. From 1990-2000, right-wing Alberto Fujimori was dictator of Peru before he fled the country and is now currently imprisoned for many human rights violations during his rule. Parallel to current events, in September of 2000, shortly after Fujimori was reelected, peasant protests erupted around Machu Picchu. The protests began after an approved shoot for a beer commercial at the site resulted in the damage of a Incan sundial. Protestors believed that an ongoing neglect of rural areas by the government led to the event and the indifference to the consequences. Additionally, similar to the challenges brought on by protesters currently, many railroads and access roads were closed.

Presently, no Peruvian president has completed his or her term since 2016. In most recent events, Pedro Castillo, Peru’s president, was arrested for attempting to dissolve Peruvian Congress before a vote deciding his impeachment on December 7, 2022.

Machu Picchu closed: Peru closes Machu Picchu ruins amid anti-government protests in 2023. Photo courtesy of Creative Commons.

Castillo emerged from a lower-class fraction of Peru, representing leftist ideals and appealing to the poorer, more rural and more indigenous parts of Peru. He promised an increase in taxation of the wealthy, a revision of the constitution written during Fujimori’s years, and to “nationalize the country’s massive mining industry.” Following the economic and social loss brought out of COVID-19, Castillo was able to tap into the increasingly stratified political and societal landscape of Peru to appeal to a certain margin of society. However, an extreme lack of preparation and competence soon revealed Castillo’s disregard of his previous promises along with the public’s general dislike of him. Nevertheless, his arrest started violent protests concentrated mostly in the Andean region of Peru by those who want to keep him as president and dissolve the current Congress. Before this December, Castillo had previously avoided two impeachment hearings.

Since his incarceration, Castillo’s vice president, Dina Boluarte, has succeeded him as Peru’s current president. Boluarte’s swearing in has not been well-received by protestors, who believe she is more right-wing than she initially let on. The United States has voiced its support of Boluarte’s promise to unify Peru after suspicion of multiple crimes and corruption were placed on Castillo. Peru’s next elections are currently set for 2026, though proposals for the advancement to 2024 have been placed. Boluarte already appealed to Congress for early elections, though has refused to step down. Protests have been extremely violent with an estimated sixty four total casualties. 

More deaths were accounted for on March 6 when six soldiers’ bodies were found in the Ilave River after the men attempted to swim across to reach a town in which protests had turned extremely violent. The bridge connecting the soldiers’ residing town to Juli, a town struck by protests, was blocked by protestors, forcing the soldiers to swim in the lethally cold water, resulting in their deaths. Juli and the region of Puno have been hotspots for the ongoing protests, accounting for at least eighteen of the total deaths.

After fears for safety due to protests, Machu Picchu reopened on February 15 as protests shifted to the capital. An instance in December where local train systems in the area were temporarily closed caused three hundred tourists to become stranded at the site. While many travelers were forced to cancel visits in January due to its closure, they have had the opportunity to revisit upon the reopening.

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