Canadians in Peru growing anxious about how to get home as civil unrest deepens

Carolina Medina arrived in Peru on December 3rd. But the Canadian tourist would soon find herself caught in the country’s political crossfire, as just four days later, the impeachment of her president sparked a wave of protests across the South American nation.

Medina, who is from Mississauga, Ontario, told CBC News in a direct message that she and a group of other Canadians are currently stuck in the southwestern city of Arequipa.

Some tourists have attempted to cross the borders into various cities — and even into neighboring Bolivia — but roadblocks by protesters have made it difficult to do so without threats of violence or getting stuck, she said.

“Other tourists have also experienced being robbed in the street and there has been a lot of looting [incidents] happened in the town near our hotel,” she said.

“We all just want to get home with our families in time for Christmas.”

Medina, who is currently among thousands of Canadians in Peru, has criticized Ottawa’s response to what she says is an increasingly dangerous situation.

Some have tried to leave the country since the protests began, but violent clashes have paralyzed travel routes and airports.

Ottawa “actively engaged” but the tourist disagrees

There are currently just over 3,900 Canadians in Peru, but that number applies only to those officially registered in the Registry of Canadians Abroad (ROCA), a voluntary service.

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The Canadian government updated its travel advice this week, urging Canadians to exercise a high level of caution when traveling to Peru.

Airports in cities like Arequipa, Ayacucho and Juliaca are among those that have suspended air traffic until further notice.

Supporters of Castillo block the Panamericana in Viru, Peru on Thursday to protest his imprisonment. Castillo was impeached and arrested on December 7 after attempting to dissolve the Peruvian Congress and announcing he would rule by decree. The new government declared a 30-day national emergency on Wednesday. (Hugo Curotto/The Associated Press)

Jason Kung, a spokesman for Global Affairs Canada, told CBC News in an email statement that consular officials are “actively concerned with the situation in Peru and continue to closely monitor the situation.” No further details were given.

Kung said the government is advising Canadians in Peru to avoid areas where demonstrations are taking place, not to cross roadblocks even if unsupervised, and to follow instructions from local authorities — including following the Curfew since 15 Peruvian provinces this week.

The government is also asking Canadians in Peru to contact the Canadian Emergency Monitoring and Response Center and register with ROCA.

CLOCK | Protests in Peru after President’s impeachment:

Protests in Peru against the overthrow of former President Pedro Castillo

Riots and violence have erupted in the streets of Peru in response to the ousting of former President Pedro Castillo.

But Medina said she believes the Canadian government is losing citizens who have yet to be evacuated from violent circumstances.

She said when she contacted the Canadian embassy in Peru, she was only told to stay. She had previously spoken to tourists from Germany and Britain who were being evacuated by their governments.

It mirrors a similar complaint made in March 2020 when Canadians encountered difficulties leaving Peru during the COVID-19 lockdown as they watched other citizens receive aid.

“We received an email that they have four flights they are departing from [Cusco]but they prioritize different groups of tourists so no one really knows when we can fly home,” Medina said.

Jennifer Korver and Heather Vitkuske were stuck in Arequipa alongside other Canadians.

“We feel safest when we’re in the hotel, and we don’t go very far,” Korver said in an interview with CBC News earlier this week.

Vitkuske said the two miss their families. “It’s hard to deal with the uncertainty.”

New leader hits back at calls for resignation

Castillo was impeached and arrested on December 7 after attempting to dissolve the Peruvian Congress and announcing he would rule by decree. The left-wing political leader was charged with “permanent moral incompetence” and arrested for rebellion.

His successor, former Vice President Dina Boluarte, has described Castillo’s actions as an attempted coup, although some have dismissed that description.

A woman sits on a bus with a child on her lap and looks out the window.
Passengers stranded on a bus for two days await a protest by Castillo supporters Wednesday as they block the Pan-American Highway in Chao, Peru. At least 20 people have died in protests against Castillo’s impeachment. ( Giant Curotto / The Associated Press )

At least 20 people have died during protests against Castillo’s impeachment, including 500 civilians and security forces. The demonstrators are demanding Boluarte’s resignation and Castillo’s release.

But Boluarte rejected calls for his resignation on Saturday. During a press conference, she criticized the country’s Congress for not voting on her proposal to bring forward Peru’s scheduled general elections from 2026 to 2023.

Peru has a long history of presidential corruption, but the Andean country has been particularly troubled over the past seven years as various political crises and a high turnover rate between presidents have paralyzed Congress.

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