ALACHUA – Alachua resident Ellen Cecil, a volunteer worker in Peru, found herself and her group of other United States-based volunteers, stranded in Peru at the outbreak of the Covid-19 virus.
Peruvian President Martín Vizcarra closed his country’s borders in an attempt to slow the Coronavirus contagion. When the international flights were abruptly cancelled, Cecil was at the Lima Airport already boarded on a plane that was to take her back to the U.S. She and the rest of the passengers were deplaned.
Several weeks ago, when Cecil entered the country, Peru had a normal travel advisory. Due to the threat of the Coronavirus, Peruvian officials shut the country down and no one was allowed on the roads except military personnel and police.
A few members of the group went to the U.S. Embassy where they showed a video and appealed to Embassy staff to help them get back home. Apparently, that attempt proved fruitless. The group was stopped twice by the police as they attempted to reach the U.S. Embassy.
After returning from the Embassy, police separated the Americans and sent each to their own room at their hotel. Police were stationed outside each of their doors so the group could not communicate with each other.
In an attempt to get assistance from the U.S. government, Cecil talked with a staffer from Florida Senator Marco Rubio’s office. Her understanding from that communication was that they would have to work with the Peruvian government to allow a “humanitarian” flight into the country so U.S. citizens could return home.
Americans in Peru were told the border had been closed “permanently” to avoid the spread of Covid-19. However, with pressure from the U.S., four flights from Peru were scheduled to fly into Miami before the final lockdown.
Although all four planes had been boarded by American citizens, three of those flights were cancelled at the last minute. Due to communication directly with the mayor of Lima, Cecil and 23 other Americans were provided papers and an escort to the airport and were allowed to leave on the one flight that had not been cancelled. The group has since arrived at the Miami Airport. Cecil, who is the only Floridian in the group, is now at home in Alachua and is in quarantine for the next two weeks.
It is estimated that approximately 1,500 – 2,000 Americans may still be in Peru. It is doubtful any of them will be allowed to return home until the threat of the Covid-19 virus has passed and the Peruvian president reopens the borders.
Cecil is thankful to the many people who worked to help get her and the other American citizens in her group back home. She thanked Congressman Ted Yoho, the U.S. Embassy in Peru, the State Department, Mayor Jorge Muñoz Wells of Lima, Peru, Louisa Barton of the Ocala/Marion County Chamber and Economic Partnership and last, but not least, Mayor Kent Guinn of Ocala. "I am very grateful to Mayor Kent Guinn and all of the people he worked with who helped me come home from Peru," Cecil said.
“I was happy to work on this issue,” said Guinn. “I was also honored that I was called to assist. Also, a huge ‘thank you’ to Debbie Garcia- Bengochea who was my link to Ellen. Thanks also to the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition whose advisory board I serve on. They were such a great resource.
“And a huge thank you, Ms Para, Scarrow and Porter at the U.S Department of State who I was in constant contact with. Also, a thank you to the U.S. Embassy in Lima, Peru, whose staff were making things happen on the ground. Lastly, thank you to the mayor of Lima, Jorge Muñoz Wells, who cleared the way for safe transport with a police escort from the hotel to the airport. It was truly a team effort. [I am] so happy Ellen has returned safe and sound. God Bless the USA. Mission Accomplished."
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