Barbara Land was working in a remote community in the Amazon rainforest when President Martin Vizcarra shut down the country, prohibiting travel into or out of Peru and leaving her and a team of volunteers isolated for weeks.
As the executive director of the Nevada Building Hope Foundation, Land travels to Peru up to three times a year for humanitarian and research projects. Recently, the foundation built a high school in Ayacucho, a city just outside the Amazon rainforest, and Land’s trip in March was a follow-up to ensure the children had uniforms and the teachers were set with supplies.
As the weeks went by without an easing of travel restrictions, Land and other volunteers wanted to find a way home. They contacted the offices of Sen. Cortez Masto, Sen. Jacky Rosen and Rep. Mark Amodei, which then connected with the U.S. Embassy in Peru.
The first time Land and her team attempted to leave the remote community, Ayacucho Mayor Tony Arevelo ordered their boat turn around, citing the lockdown. Eventually, with the additional help and advocacy of local lodge owners, Land and the volunteers were granted permission to leave.
“We got the message, ‘come on,’ and the minister of tourism himself was standing on the riverbank with masks, with sanitizers, with an entire string of military and even the lieutenant of the national police, because you’re not allowed on the road,” she said. “The military is there with their big guns, and we got a full police escort from the riverbank all the way to Iquito City.”
From Iquito City, Land was flown to Lima in a small propeller plane to an air force base in Lima, where she waited in a hangar for five hours for a repatriation flight to an Air Force base near Dallas, Texas. The next stop was Washington, D.C., then South Carolina, then Phoenix and finally, back home to Reno, about a month after she landed in Peru.
Land was relieved to make it home after the ordeal, but it came at a price.
After her flight home was canceled, LATAM Airlines charged her $1,200 for a new ticket. Land said that amount was refunded to her this week, but she still owes $3,000 to the U.S. government for the domestic flights she took before arriving in Reno.
Additionally, Land worries about flights for June and October that she’s already paid for amid rumors that President Vizcarro will close Peru’s borders until 2021.
The extra costs are a burden for Land, a small business owner who’s been affected by the business closures because of the pandemic.
Relief For Americans Sent Home
Land is among thousands of Americans who were stranded in foreign countries amid the initial days of the coronavirus outbreak in March. Many whose flights were canceled or delayed had to pay extra fees for new flights back home, resulting in unexpected charges of thousands of dollars per person.
In response, Cortez Masto has co-sponsored the Repatriation Reimbursement Act which would require airlines to reimburse those affected for the additional fees and have the State Department waive government fees.
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