Pasadena resident Sean Stewart is one of about 1,400 Americans who are stuck in Peru as of Sunday after Peru became the lone South American country to completely shut down its borders due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Stewart, 26, and his friend David Lockwood, 29, arrived in Peru for vacation on February 25.
The pair work as firefighters for the Oregon-based company Inbound LLC, which provides wild land fire suppression support across the United States.
“The US embassy has been virtually silent,” Stewart told Pasadena Now. “All resources are dwindling especially for gringos stuck here. Many people are being turned away from hostels and hotels because Peruvians fear that we all have the virus. Peruvians are genuinely good people but the situation is changing by the hour as people get more and more desperate.”
Stewart and Lockwood visited Cusco, the Lost City of Machu Picchu and the jungle city of Iquito, which is only accessible by plane or boat via the Amazon River. Stewart nearly got stranded in Iquito, but secured a flight to Lima, Peru’s capital city, at the last minute. An airline attendant told him not to tell anyone else that he got the last seat on that flight.
They are currently staying at a Holiday Inn next to the Jorge Chávez International Airport in Lima. About 15 Americans in their 30s, from Los Angeles and Alabama, are at that hotel, along with about 30 British citizens who are also stranded.
Stewart said police harass them when they leave the hotel to try to get food, demanding to see their passports and asking them where they’re going. They’re under curfew with mandatory arrest after 6 p.m. As of Friday, they were told they couldn’t leave the hotel at all.
Peru is allowing humanitarian flights but the United States isn’t sending them. Other countries such as Israel, Mexico, Chile and South Korea have sent humanitarian planes to retrieve their citizens, but the United States, Canada, Spain and the UK so far have not. Stewart and Lockwood spoke to one 30-year-old British woman who has no money and was sleeping on the streets of Lima. Israel has exfiltrated 1,000 of its citizens.
On Thursday, a couple of plane tickets to Mexico City became available and the group of stranded Americans let older people with kids take the tickets. Those citizens are now back in the United States.
The day before Peru implemented the lockdown, Stewart had a plane ticket, but his flight was canceled. He spent 15 hours at the airport trying to get what ended up being a non-existent LATAM flight.
On Thursday, President Trump said in a press briefing that the US military is going to help Americans in Peru get home.
“We have a group of young people in Peru and we’re working on taking care of that with the military,” Trump said. He then went on to blame the Americans for their plight, saying, “They got caught, they were late with their flights, we gave them a period of time, they didn’t make it, but we’re looking to get them out probably through the military.”
Flights were canceled with very little, if any, notice in most cases and Americans including Stewart spent several hours at the airport trying to get new flights.
It is unclear what Trump meant by “we gave them a period of time, they didn’t make it.” Defense Department spokesman Chris Mitchell told The Hill that the military “had received no requests for assistance in connection with Peru and evacuating Americans there.”
On Friday, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said the US government is working to bring Americans home. Americans are also stranded in Morocco.
“We’re urging individuals when they can get back on their own — they traveled there on their own — when they can travel back on their own, they ought to try to do that,” he said. “We have a team at the State Department, the Repatriation Task Force, that is working each of these instances. We’ve heard from individuals and members of Congress. We’re trying to get Americans back from these places where air travel has been disrupted. And we will get that done over time.”
Pompeo added that Americans stuck abroad should register at step.state.gov in order to be tracked (although he incorrectly stated the URL as “step.gov”). Stewart said he registered on Tuesday but that “they haven’t done much so far.”
Stewart reached out to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Fresno) and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Oakland) and spoke to their aides. Stewart spoke directly to Rep. Jimmy Gomez (D-Los Angeles), who represents parts of Los Angeles and said he would pass the information along.
Stewart said he heard that California has issued a stay-at-home order. Still, he said, “I just want to be there.”