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Columbia woman stuck in Peru ‘falling through cracks’

Members of Peru's military patrol the streets of Cajamarca, enforcing the quarantine through loud speakers.


Monday marks the 15th day of quarantine in Peru.

Columbia woman Zoe Parham still has no way to get out and get home.

Parham, who is in Peru for a work stay program, said Sunday was the first day she was able to speak personally with someone from the U.S. State Department or the U.S. embassy in Peru. She has been contacting Missouri's federal lawmakers for multiple weeks now, trying to get help with the situation.

Senator Michael Bennet
Senator Michael Bennet

The help didn't come from her own members of Congress, but from the office of Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet.

"I’m not even Sen. Bennet’s constituent," Parham said. "It doesn’t matter at all. I have no power to vote for him, I don’t live in that state all the time, I’m not a resident there. Nothing. But they’ve worked so, so, so hard to assist me."

Parham lived in Colorado from May until February but is a Missouri resident.

There are nine other Americans stranded where Parham is located: Cajamarca, Peru. Though there are repatriation flights going out of Lima and Cuzco, Parham and the other U.S. citizens cannot access them, she said.

"We’re 17 hours northeast of Lima," Parham said. "It remains our biggest barrier, that’s why we’re still here."

Peru is under a nationwide lockdown. The government is not allowing travel in the region, and people are only allowed out of their homes to get groceries or go to the bank or pharmacy. There are currently barriers to travel in Peru that require special permission from each locality for any travel.

Parham said she's made little progress calling Missouri lawmakers for help.

“It’s just generic responses," Parham said. "I express that I need specific help getting from Cajamarca to Lima, and it comes back with 'we’re doing the best we can to help all Missourians.' Nothing specific to me."

Parham has exchanged emails with Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) and Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Harrisonville). Read the statements the offices provided to ABC 17 News below:

"We have helped bring back 92 Missourians stranded abroad, and we are going to continue to push the State Department to ensure the safe return of all Missourians. In fact, Josh spoke to the President about Missourians stranded abroad because the State Department has not moved with urgency. 

“Our office has been in regular contact with Ms. Parham and in turn, we have repeatedly pressed the State Department to expedite her return to Missouri. Two of the factors in Ms. Parham’s case include her remote location, which is 17 hours away from Lima, where the State Department is chartering flights, and the fact Peru has in-country travel restrictions. That’s why we have stressed to the State Department that transportation needs to be secured for her and the other 10 U.S. citizens located near her. We will not stop pressing the State Department until Ms. Parham and all Missourians return safely to the U.S.”

---Kelli Ford, spokesperson for Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.)

“During this unprecedented time, tens of thousands of Americans who were traveling abroad were asked to come home at a moment’s notice. Unfortunately, a number of people were unable to immediately return, resulting in them being forced to indefinitely remain in various countries. While Congresswoman Hartzler’s office cannot comment on specific cases, the office has been in touch with many constituents and is diligently working with the Department of State to bring them home and unite them with their families."

Steve Walsh, Press Secretary for Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R-Mo.)

"Sen. Blunt has been in touch with the State Department personally and our staff is in daily contact with the State Department and the U.S. Consulate working to bring these citizens home."

Katie Boyd, Office of Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)

ABC 17 News also contacted the U.S. embassy in Peru and received an automated reply.

"We are doing what we can to provide assistance and help coordinate transportation options to help U.S. citizens travel to the United States," the reply said.

The person at the State Department who is now in contact with Parham said they are working on her specific situation.

Article Topic Follows: Coronavirus

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Molly Stawinoga

Molly Stawinoga is ABC 17’s weekday morning anchor and a reporter at ABC 17 News. Molly joined the news team in 2017 while studying political science, journalism and Spanish at the University of Missouri. She is originally from DeKalb, Illinois.


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