The security message from the United States Embassy in Peru warning American citizens of a security risk was valid only through today, the end of February. A flurry of interest in the warning stormed through the press in the last several days because of the reported disappearance in Peru of an American couple who are now reported same and in contact with family. The US insists the couple’s situation had nothing to do with the warning.
As a result, unless the US Embassy releases an additional message, we can put this warning behind us for now. Nevertheless the official nature of the warning caused consternation in Peru. The Peruvian government has invested years of effort in developing and promoting Peru as a tourist destination, all of which could unravel quickly with warnings of this nature as well as the press about the apparent disappearance of the California couple.
Comments on the US Embassy’s Facebook page protest the warning and suggest that, given the spate of shootings in the United States, Peru should reciprocate with an official security message warning its citizens and others about violence in the US.
At the same time comments express pleasure that Garret Hand and Jamie Neal of California were found. As word of concern for Hand and Neal spread, Peruvian authorities undertook a concerted effort to locate them.
Although the authorities have not said publicly how they found them, whenever tourists stay the night in a place of lodging they must leave their passport information on the log which is then communicated, as least officially with Peruvian authorities.
Neal and Hand’s families became concerned when the couple that was bicycling through Peru suddenly ceased contact and showed no activity on their Facebook pages or in their bank accounts. Hand’s mother, Francine Fitzgerald, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, spoke by phone with her son yesterday and said “I am so glad he is well.”
Hand and Neal were located in a remote area of Peru along the Napo river where they were traveling out of contact with Internet, ATMs and telephone.
However, their families’ worry combined with the US Embassy’s warning that criminal organizations were planning to kidnap Americans to amplify the issues. The embassy has remained vague about the criminal organization, however the Peruvian newspaper La Republica reported that the US was referring to the remaining Shining Path guerrillas operating in the lowland areas of Cuzco, especially the gas-producing regions of Camisea, where significant development and investment is taking place.
La Republica reported the interception of communications among the guerrilla leaders led to the US Embassy’s warning and that the Guerrillas may be planning a new military offensive. Furthermore, La Republica related that the guerrillas were targeting Hunt Oil which is working in the Camisea area.
In the eighties and early nineties the Shining Path came close to bringing the Peruvian government to its knees. The war between the State and the Maoist guerrillas led to tens of thousands of death and upended the country. With the capture of the then leader of the movement, Abimael Guzman Reynoso, in 1992 dissonance in the movement led to its fragmentation and the vast majority of the guerrilla’s ceased their revolutionary activity. Only a small group remained active. They were concentrated in the coca-producing areas where they have continued, relying on the drug trade reportedly for financing.
The Peruvian government’s emphasis on tourism as a pillar of the Peruvian economy, its focus on developing the gas reserves of the Camisea where a major US corporation is operating, as well as the United States’ concern to block illegal coca production and cocaine trafficking together make United States citizens a tempting target for the rump guerrilla movement, especially if they are workers or officials of the oil companies although tourists in general could be targeted.
However, the US government and the government of Peru are very aware of this and will no doubt expend great effort to block any activity towards carrying out a threat against United States tourists to the degree possible.
Still, tourists and other US citizens should heed the advice of the embassy to register with US authorities on traveling to Peru. They can do so by enrolling in the US Department of State’s Smart Traveler Program,
Travelers of all types should always exercise appropriate caution and be aware of their surroundings. Alertness to risk is important whether traveling in Peru or in the United States.
Today the US alert on travel to Peru expires and we can all breathe a sigh of relief.