Peru’s gateway airport to Machu Picchu closes as protests grow

Safety considerations led to the closure of the airport in Cusco, a gateway to Peru’s tourism crown jewel of Machu Picchu.

With anti-government protests escalating across Peru, authorities have closed the international airport in the southern city of Cusco, a busy gateway to the mountain-top Incan citadel of Machu Picchu – one of the world’s most visited archaeological sites.

Weeks of protests have left dozens dead across Peru and several airports have been the target of the demonstrations.

Peru’s transport ministry said on Thursday that safety considerations led to the preemptive closure of the Alejandro Velasco Astete International Airport in Cusco.

“This action is being taken to safeguard peoples’ wellbeing and the safety of aeronautical operations,” the ministry said in a statement.

Clashes in Cusco – an arrival point for people visiting the country’s tourism crown jewel of Machu Picchu – broke out on Wednesday with protesters attempting to enter the airport, while others torched a bus station, attacked shops and blocked train tracks with large rocks.

Peru’s rights ombudsman said one person died in Cusco and more than 50 people, including 19 police officers, were injured in the turmoil, while police said they had arrested 11 people.

Protests continue to escalate across Peru since first erupting in early December after the removal of former President Pedro Castillo, who was thrown out of office for attempting to dissolve Congress and rule by decree in a failed bid to prevent an impeachment vote against him.

Supporters of Castillo have marched for weeks demanding new elections and the removal of current leader Dina Boluarte, who replaced Castillo as president. Boluarte, 60, was Castillo’s vice president but took over once he was removed on December 7.

Castillo, who was being investigated in several fraud cases during his tenure, has been remanded in custody for 18 months, charged with rebellion.

Clashes between protesters and security forces have left at least 42 people dead, including a police officer who was burned alive in a vehicle, while hundreds more have been injured.

Almost half of the victims died in clashes on Monday night alone in the southern Puno region, where 17 people were due to be buried on Thursday. Gathered in a circle around a coffin, relatives of one of the victims held posters reading: “Dina corrupt murderer” and “we are not terrorists but citizens who demand justice”.

Also on Thursday, trade unions, left-wing parties and social collectives marched through Lima, the capital which has largely been spared of violence thus far, to denounce a “racist and classist… dictatorship”.

The social unrest has laid bare the deep divisions between residents of the affluent capital and populations in Peru’s long-neglected countryside. Castillo was a political novice who lived in a two-story adobe home in the Andean highlands before moving to the presidential palace after winning a narrow victory in elections in 2021. The result rocked Peru’s political establishment.

Al Jazeera’s Mariana Sanchez, reporting from Lima, said the atmosphere was tense at the marches in the capital following days of clashes between protesters and police in different parts of the country which had seen demonstrators killed by the gunfire of security forces.

“People have been marching around the centre of the capital demanding the resignation of President Dina Boluarte. They are calling her an assassin and saying that she is responsible for the deaths,” Sanchez said.

“Prime Minister Alberto Otárola has said that Dina Boluarte will not resign, that she is solidly conducting the country and that her resignation would be like opening the door to anarchy,” she said.

The prime minister weighed in on behalf of Boluarte in “response to a statement put out by governors in different parts of the country saying that, and urging her, that she must resign because that’s the only way to resolving the crisis”, she added.

In addition to demanding Boluarte’s resignation, protesters want Congress to be dissolved and a new body set up to rewrite the constitution – which was adopted in 1993 under the mandate of Alberto Fujimori.

The former president is serving a 25-year prison sentence for crimes against humanity committed during his time in power.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies