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No welcome wagon for travelers entering Chelem

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Worried about the spread of coronavirus, residents discourage traffic into Chelem Friday evening. Photo: From Eclipse Radio video

Holding placards and blocking the town’s entrance, Chelem residents Saturday protested an influx of suspected vacationers in their tiny beach community.

The protest followed a brief conflict a week earlier in Chicxulub Puerto and at Chuburna where part-time homeowners were discouraged from celebrating Holy Week at the beach. Locals fear the spread of coronavirus from larger more urban communities, particularly Merida.

The vigorous demonstrations mirror an anxiety felt in beach towns all over Mexico. Local residents have begun blocking off roads — in some cases, constructing barricades of rubble across roadways — to seal themselves off from the outside world in a bid to stop the new coronavirus from entering.

Blue-collar workers from indigenous communities inland from the beach were also swept up in the outrage.

When laid-off Maya workers returned from Cancun to their Yucatan homes, they found the road to Kanxoc, near Valladolid, blocked with mounds of rubble and dirt to prevent them from entering.

The rights group Equipo Indigación objected, saying: “This measure is not only restrictive and a violation of human rights, given that it violates the right of free movement, it also violates the rights of the Maya people and implies racism.”

Kanxoc residents’ access to health care could be affected, given that most local services are in Valladolid, the group noted.

The Associated Press reported that on the Gulf of California, the beach town of Puerto Peñasco announced Friday that two of three highways leading into the town would be closed, and anyone entering would be subject to an enforced 12-day quarantine.

“Nobody who is not a resident of Peñasco will be allowed to enter; relatives, friends, tourists and people from outside will be prohibited from entering, in order to avoid possible contagion,” said Puerto Peñasco Mayor Kiko Munro.

Oscar Castro, the town’s health director, acknowledged that residents cannot, by law, be banned from leaving, or returning; but if they decide to return, they’ll be quarantined.

Fearing the spread of coronavirus, Chelem residents discourage cars from entering the town. Photo: From Eclipse Radio video

Castro said Puerto Peñasco currently has no coronavirus cases, and officials want to keep it that way; Puerto Peñasco has a strictly enforced curfew. Close to Phoenix and Tucson, Puerto Peñasco is popular among Americans.

Besides lacking health care resources, beach-side communities can see what has already happened in heavily touristed areas: Mexico’s highest per-capita infection rate is in Quintana Roo, home to resorts like Cancun, and Yucatan’s neighbor to the east.

In the Pacific coast beach town of Rincon de Guayabitos, video on social media showed dump trucks piling huge mounds of construction rubble across a highway leading into town to prevent tourists from entering.

In the nearby beach community of Sayulita, residents posted videos of themselves at informal, vigilante-style roadblocks, turning back visitors’ cars. That came after Nayarit Gov. Antonio Echeverria launched a harsh verbal attack on tourists from the bigger neighboring state of Jalisco, blaming them for “their irresponsible presence… some even come when they are infected.”

“They will always be welcome, but now on this occasion they should stay at home,” Echeverria said.

Some tourist towns tried a more polite way of saying: “Stay away.”

Tepoztlán, a scenic mountain town just south of Mexico City, blocked access roads but issued a statement saying “Tepoztlán is taking a break and from their homes, our people are waiting to once again receive visitors, because now, separated we are closer.”

To some extent, the actions of governors and mayors are just the logical extension of federal government policy. The Interior Department said approvingly in a statement that “the governors have agreed to make an effort to keep tourist destinations closed.”

In the indigenous lakeside community of Zirahuen, the largely Purepecha residents erected improvised barricades of tree branches and rocks to block tourists from nearby Morelia from entering.

“No entry to Zirahuén, all the roads are blocked,” read one hand-written sign on the barricades.

With information from The Associated Press

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