What is happening in Machu Picchu?

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Hundreds of tourists were stranded near Machu Picchu, Peru's most visited site, over the weekend after protesters blocked rail and bus routes to the site and closed local shops and restaurants in Aguas Calientes, the gateway. to Machu Picchu, in the Cusco region of the country. . Some visitors posted videos on social media asking for help. Police evacuated about 700 tourists on Saturday. Many left without seeing the site.

Protesters took to the streets Thursday to demand the government terminate a contract that allows a company to sell tickets to Machu Picchu for the first time. Previously, tickets were sold through the Cusco culture office, controlled by the regional government.

Protesters on Tuesday agreed to a 24-hour “truce” to engage in talks with government officials. While Machu Picchu is officially open, train service to Aguas Calientes and buses that take tourists to the citadel remain suspended. The U.S. Embassy advised travelers who want to try to reach the site by other means to make sure they bring enough food and any medications they may need.

Machu Picchu, believed to have been a getaway for Inca royalty in the 15th century, received about 2.2 million visitors last year, down from pre-pandemic levels of 4.6 million. Peru has been trying to encourage tourists to visit other ancient sites in part to avoid overcrowding, which UNESCO warned could damage parts of its structure.

Among the protesters are tour operators, guides, activists and residents of the Cusco region. They oppose a private company profiting from the sale of tickets to Machu Picchu and claim that the company, Joinnus, an event marketing platform, was chosen to manage sales last year through a corrupt agreement with the minister. of culture, Leslie Urteaga, that she denies it.

Elvis La Torre, mayor of Aguas Calientes, said the government did not consult local authorities or residents about the new online system.

Distrust of President Dina Boluarte's government runs deep in Cusco, a predominantly indigenous region with countless pre-Columbian ruins. Boluarte took office in late 2022 after her predecessor was overthrown and arrested after attempting to dissolve the Peruvian Congress, sparking widespread protests across the country to which she responded with repressive measures that left 49 civilians dead, mainly in regions natives.

The government says the new ticketing system aims to make sales more transparent. It alleges that “mafias” linked to the regional government of Cusco divert a portion of the tickets to sell them on the black market, depriving public coffers of income and making it difficult to measure the real number of visitors to the site.

The government is also trying to implement a “dynamic” system where the daily visitor limit changes throughout the year.

The company that transports tourists to Machu Picchu routinely reports a higher number of tourists per day than official ticket sales, according to the congressional tourism commission. The national comptroller's office found that during 2021 and 2022, the regional culture office had not counted between 70,000 and 80,000 visitors to Machu Picchu, representing a loss of around $2 million a year.

The protesters want the Minister of Culture to resign and the contract with Joinnus to be terminated. On Tuesday, the Ministry of Culture announced that it would move the new ticketing system to a platform managed by the central government, with input from the Cusco regional government.

Urteaga said it would take “a prudent period of time” to transition to a new state-run system. “We can't go back to the old system,” he said on X, formerly Twitter. We must have a secure, transparent and objective platform.”

Joinnus said he would agree to terminate his contract early.

Mayor La Torre proposed updating the regional government's online ticket sales platform to guarantee transparency. “We will agree to modernize the Ministry of Culture's sales system,” he said in a video posted online, but only if the process was “transparent” and “communicated to interested parties.”

It was unclear whether protesters would resume their protests after the truce ends at midnight Tuesday.

Peru is plagued by social conflict and it is not unusual for residents of rural regions to block roads to draw media attention to their demands and pressure authorities to negotiate.

Over the past decade, protesters have blocked rail access to Machu Picchu several times as part of efforts to secure higher salaries for teachers and health care workers, lower fares for rail service or assistance for farmers during a severe crisis. fertilizer shortage.

In late 2022 and early last year, tourism in much of southern Peru, including Machu Picchu, stopped for several weeks during political unrest after Boluarte took office.


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