Senior State Department official headed to Peru to bring home stranded Americans, Rubio says

Senior State Department official headed to Peru to bring home stranded Americans, Rubio says
© Greg Nash

Sen. Marco RubioMarco Antonio RubioThis week: Surveillance fight sets early test for House's proxy voting Overwhelming majority of publicly traded firms have not returned small-business loans: review GOP faces internal conflicts on fifth coronavirus bill MORE (R-Fla.) on Tuesday said a senior State Department official is heading to Peru to take charge of efforts to bring home thousands of Americans stuck in the country amid the coronavirus pandemic.

“This morning a competent official has taken direct control & will personally go to #Peru to get Americans home as soon as possible,” the senator tweeted.

The Florida Republican also used his tweet to criticize “mid-level” officials in the State Department for failing to act quickly to repatriate citizens after Peru shuttered its borders on March 16.

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A Rubio official told The Hill that "the individual manning the Peru desk has been 'tracking' this issue for a week, but doing nothing and the Ambassador essentially abandoned the post to return to Washington."

“The Senator made his frustration known directly to the State Department, and now a senior official within the State Department’s Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs is heading to Peru,” the official said in an email.

The U.S. Embassy in Lima said that the State Department has dispatched Julie Chung, principal deputy assistant secretary in the Bureau of Western Hemisphere Affairs, to Peru.

The U.S. Ambassador to Peru, Krishna Urs, departed the country on March 20 over medical concerns, the embassy said, but has continued to be engaged from Washington in efforts to repatriate Americans. 

The State Department did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Hill.

A video message to Americans stuck in the country was posted to Facebook on Monday by Charge d’Affaires Denison K. Offutt, explaining efforts being taken by the State Department to return them home.

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Offutt said the embassy was aware of at least 5,000 U.S. citizens in Peru, although it's unclear if all are asking for assistance to return to the U.S. At least 700 Americans have already left Peru as of March 24, the embassy said. 

More than 2,600 Americans are listed on an independently organized spreadsheet requesting the U.S. government provide help in organizing flights home. 

The move comes as U.S.-chartered flights for Americans were delayed after the Peruvian government failed to provide permission for the flights to land.

The planes were expected for Americans stuck in the mountain town of Cuzco and the port city of Lima, the country's capital.

Hundreds of Americans are also stranded in smaller towns and areas facing difficulty traveling to the larger cities because of Peru's national quarantine.

Updated: 7:55 p.m.