Americans stuck in Peru weren’t the only ones who were frustrated. On March 24, Sen. Marco Rubio R-Fla., tweeted: “#AmericansStuckInPeru is due to lack [of] urgency by some in mid-level of @StateDept. We didn’t need you to ‘track’ this, we needed you to solve this. This morning a competent official has taken direct control & will personally go to #Peru to get Americans home as soon as possible.” That official was Julie Chung, principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs.
After Chung arrived in Peru on March 27, Rachel Adams says affairs seemed more organized. More Americans were able to get flights home, but Adams says the embassy focused its efforts on people in the larger cities of Lima and Cusco. Huánuco, where Adams was, is a nine-hour drive from Lima.
Adams and fellow volunteer Andrew Avram started calling anybody they could think of, including U.S. senators’ offices. A church friend had a connection who agreed to help them. “All we were told was that somebody named Carlos might call us,” Adams said.
Carlos Neuhaus did call. He’s the organizer for the Pan American Games and is friends with the director of transit of the Peruvian National Police, Jorge Lam. Lam had a connection with someone in the U.S. Embassy.
Peru’s commercial airports had already shut down, and all flights were going through a military base in Lima. Adams and Avram finally got on the embassy’s list for an April 5 flight. When their embassy representative realized they were in Huánuco, she called them back and asked them to remove their names from the flight list. She didn’t think they would make it in time.
To get from Huánuco to Lima in time, they needed to drive through the night over mountainous roads. Since the government had banned travel, Lam promised he would provide them with an escort.
Adams, Avram, and their Peruvian driver left Huánuco at 10 p.m. on Sunday, April 5. Less than an hour down the road, barricades prevented them from continuing. Peruvian police recorded their license plate number, searched the car with flashlights, and took photos. They inspected their paperwork and wrote down their passport information. Adams says they “felt somewhat like hostages.” After the inspection, a military escort accompanied them and helped speed up the process at checkpoints the rest of the way.
When they reached the U.S. Embassy, they waited another three hours before taking a bus to a military hangar. The U.S. Embassy required them to sign a promissory note agreeing to pay a still undetermined price for the flight home. The State Department is offering loans to help U.S. citizens pay for the flights, but Adams still doesn’t know how much her flight will cost. She’s heard reports of other passengers paying up to $5,000. Adams paid $400 for her previously scheduled flight home in July.
Social distancing was difficult to maintain while waiting in lines, sitting on a crowded bus, and boarding a plane. Adams wore gloves and a mask, but not all passengers did the same. Upon arriving at Dulles International Airport in Washington, D.C., she expected an “intense medical exam.” Instead, officials only asked passengers where they had been. No one checked passengers’ temperatures or screened them further.