Protests and social unrest in Peru surrounding access to Machu Picchu and tourism practices have continued this week, with new developments emerging daily. Here’s an overview of the key events, background that led to the protests, and what to expect going forward.
Timeline of Recent Protests and Government Response
The protests first began on January 21st, led by local residents and tourism industry workers voicing opposition to a new exclusive contract awarded to a private company, Daditur, to handle entrance ticketing and access to Machu Picchu.
- Protesters blocked off train access to the famous Incan ruins site for over a week, stranding hundreds of tourists who had traveled to visit.
- On January 30th, the protests turned violent as police fired tear gas at demonstrators.
- As political pressure mounted, on January 31st the Peruvian government announced it would rescind the contract with Daditur.
- Trains reopened later on the 31st after protests winded down, restoring tourist access to Machu Picchu.
Background Context Behind the Unrest
While the ticketing contract served as a flashpoint, there are deeper issues fueling discontent in the Cusco region where Machu Picchu is located.
Pandemic Economic Struggles: Like many tourism-dependent regions, Cusco suffered severe economic hardship over 2+ years of the COVID-19 pandemic as global travel declined. Locals have grown understandably frustrated as the region has struggled to recover.
Distribution of Tourism Revenue: There is a perception among Cusco residents that too much of the money from tourism activity is flowing to outside companies rather than helping provide opportunity and economic relief to locals.
“One can clearly see the social unrest that is lived daily in Cusco as a consequence of an unbridled overtourism focused exclusively on making millionaires out of business groups and corrupt authorities,” said a leader of the Machupicchu Pueblo group.
Overcrowding and Site Preservation: In 2019, over 1.5 million people visited Machu Picchu, putting a major strain on the centuries-old site. The Peruvian government instituted timed-entry ticket slots as a conservation method, but this has led to complaints about restricting access.
With tensions escalating, rescinding the Daditur contract appears a strategic move by the government to restore calm as all sides try to find solutions.
What Comes Next?
In the short term, tourism access seems to be resuming as protests ease this week.
However, significant work remains to address deeper issues and rebuild trust between authorities, tourism businesses, outside companies like Daditur, and local citizens. Some next steps that could help:
- Renegotiating public-private partnerships to ensure more inclusive policies and opportunities for Cusco residents.
- Additional economic relief programs focusing specifically on communities near Machu Picchu.
- Conservation measures for the Incan citadel exploring options beyond just visitor caps.
- Campaign to actively promote tourism to other areas of Peru besides hotspots like Machu Picchu to spread benefits more widely.
With calm restored for now, all sides must collaborate to enact meaningful changes that distribute the benefits from this world-famous destination more fairly and sustainably going forward.
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