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A Florida couple is among hundreds of tourists stranded in Peru amid ongoing political unrest

 Supporters of Peru's now jailed leftist President Pedro Castillo flood the streets of Arequipa demanding he be returned to office.
AP
Supporters of Peru's now jailed leftist President Pedro Castillo flood the streets of Arequipa demanding he be returned to office.

As political unrest continues in Peru, it’s easy to forget the country is also one of South America’s most popular destinations for tourists — including one Florida couple who found themselves stranded there in a scary situation.

Earlier this week, as protesters marched through Urubamba, Peru, they warned that if the country’s newly inaugurated president, Dina Boluarte, didn’t resign, they would “burn down this hotel" — pointing at the very inn where Orlando residents Claudette and Norman Cordero were staying.

“All of a sudden the security guard told us, ‘You have to get to your rooms now!’" said Claudette, who recalled watching the protesters pile-up old tires to burn outside the hotel's gates. "And we all started running to our rooms.

"It was the scariest thing in my life. I was losing my mind, I was crying. I mean, we could be here for weeks. I was thinking, ‘Am I even going to make it home for Christmas?’”

 Claudette (right) and Norman Cordero of Orlando at Machu Picchu in Peru earlier this week.
Courtesy of Claudette Cordero
Claudette (right) and Norman Cordero of Orlando at Machu Picchu in Peru earlier this week.

But Claudette, who is Puerto Rican, and Norman, a native Venezuelan, both speak fluent Spanish and navigated the crisis more assuredly than many U.S. tourists would.

"One silver lining is that a situation like this does remind you to appreciate being an American citizen," said Claudette, who is a nurse.

The Corderos arrived in Peru last weekend for a 20th-anniversary trip to see the Inca ruins at Machu Picchu. But just days earlier, leftist president Pedro Castillo had been removed from office after he tried to shut down Peru’s congress and rule by decree.

His vice president, Boluarte, was sworn in as president, but Castillo’s supporters demanded he be restored to power. Their unrest and clashes with police — which have intensified since Thursday since a judge ordered Castillo to remain behind bars for 18 months — have resulted in at least 14 deaths, including seven in the south-central city of Ayacucho, west of Machu Picchu.

Late this week, after seeing the Machu Picchu ruins, the Corderos got out of nearby Urubamba — where protesters did not burn down their hotel and eventually began demonstrating more peacefully — and made it to the larger city of Cusco to the south, despite myriad protester roadblocks. Boluarte, meanwhile, has declared a national emergency and curfews across Peru.

Claudette told WLRN by phone from Cusco they hope to get a flight to Lima this weekend and then back to the U.S. Hundreds, if not thousands, of U.S. and other foreign tourists are in similar straits in Peruvian sites like Cusco at the moment.

Meanwhile, Claudette has kept a sense of humor.

“I think we’ll just be traveling in the States for a year or two," she said laughing. "Like, for sure.”

She admits, though, that when they get back to Orlando they’ll have a lot more to tell their three children about than just Inca ruins.

Copyright 2022 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

Tim Padgett is the Americas editor for Miami NPR affiliate WLRN, covering Latin America, the Caribbean and their key relationship with South Florida.