Roadblocks south of an official health checkpoint are still turning back Americans they believe are engaged in nonessential travel
Fears about possible coronavirus infections from hard-hit Arizona mixed together with local politics south of the U.S.-Mexico border saw American vacationers turned back on the road to the popular resort of Puerto Peñasco over the long July 4 weekend.
The spat in the small community of Sonoyta just south of Lukeville, Arizona, continued Tuesday after erupting over the weekend against a backdrop of international politics, local rivalries and resentments, and growing fears about the virus being spread along the 2,000-mile border.
“Really it is the American tourists who are not traveling,” said Carlos Jacquez of the protest group Sonoyta Unidos, which on Saturday briefly shut down all southbound travel to Puerto Peñasco, a resort on the Sea of Cortez known as Rocky Point.
Local Sonoyta journalist Juan Manuel Navarro said Tuesday protesters with a roadblock south of an official health checkpoint are still turning back Americans they believe are engaged in nonessential travel.
Jacquez said Monday in a videotaped interview that Mexicans and Americans who can prove they are traveling on essential business like work or business are being allowed through.
Although authorities in Puerto Peñasco told visitors on the city’s website they should be waved by if they can prove they have reservations in the coastal city, Jacquez said they cannot pass.
The border chaos made it hard to know how many tourists got through Sonoyta since the dispute began Saturday over local concerns that visiting Americans could spread the coronavirus further in their community. For a brief time that day, the protesters didn’t let anyone through.
To the west in Mexicali, a Mexican border city of about 1 million people, vehicle checkpoints were also erected throughout the five-day Fourth of July weekend near border crossings with the U.S. and on the main highway to San Felipe and other beaches on the Sea of Cortez’s western side.
“It is all politics, but they seem to be working it out,” said Jonni Francis, a real estate broker who moved her business from the Phoenix area to Puerto Peñasco more than two decades ago. “It was certainly painful for the people who planned to come down here for the long holiday and were turned back.”
Francis said she was waiting to see if the current situation would affect her plans to travel this week to Arizona.
An agreement between the neighboring municipalities of Sonoyta, which governs the border area with Arizona, and Puerto Peñasco, which oversees the coastal retreat known as Rocky Point, broke down Monday as officials worked to get southbound traffic moving again.
It all started last week when Sonora Gov. Claudia Pavlovich Arellano announced all nonessential travel from Arizona into her state would be banned over the July 4 weekend. Arizona currently is seeing a COVID-19 surge with 3,653 newly confirmed cases reported Tuesday. Tourism is considered nonessential.
A governor’s spokeswoman in the state capital of Hermosillo did not immediately respond Tuesday to a request for comment about the situation on the border.
Sonoyta Mayor José Ramos Arzate issued a statement Saturday “inviting U.S. tourists not to visit Mexico.” The telephone at Sonyota City Hall rang unanswered Tuesday morning.
On Sunday, Puerto Peñasco and Sonoyta municipalities reached an agreement for the highway leading directly to Rocky Point aimed at allowing travel by Americans who could prove permanent Mexican residency or could show they had reservations at the resort.
When Monday rolled around, social media reports said Sonoyta protesters were blocking the southbound route again. Ramos Arzate said in a social media post-Monday the protesters believe passing tourists posed “a strong source of contagion.”
In Imperial County, California, Calexico Police Chief Gonzalo Gerardo said authorities across the border in Mexicali told him they intended to operate the checkpoints every Thursday through Sunday until the number of new cases subsides in Mexicali. It is among Mexico’s hardest-hit cities, with 933 confirmed deaths and nearly 5,500 cases.
The area once known as the “cocaine corridor” is now called the “COVID corridor,” Gonzalo said.
Imperial County hospitals have been overwhelmed by COVID-19 patients. Authorities believe the problem has been exacerbated as U.S. citizens and legal residents with homes in Mexicali cross the border to seek treatment.
Puerto Peñasco approves Phase 5 of gradual reopening process
Members of the Municipal Health & Safety Advisory Board unanimously approved Phase 5 of Puerto Peñasco’s economic reactivation plan via a virtual online conference held on Tuesday, July 7th.
Mayor Ernest Kiko Munro detailed the city has gradually and responsibly revived its economy thanks to the joint work of Government and civil-society. NOTE: Beach reopening is based on Federal direction, and the beaches remain closed at this time – except for the concession area in front of hotels & resorts.
The various agreements approved by the Health & Safety Advisory Board as Puerto Peñasco continues its process of reopening during the present Covid-19 pandemic include:
Entry to Puerto Peñasco for residents from the neighboring municipality of General Plutarco Elías Calles (Sonoyta) for essential activities only, and in complying all safety protocols and measures:
- Proof of residence in Sonoyta
- Transfer to carry out essential activities only
- Use of masks by everyone in the vehicle
- Preferably no travel with minors under 12, or adults over 65 (not obligatory)
Starting July 15th
Entry of family, friends, and visitors in general (including vacation home owners), under previously established health measures, and depending on having Covid-19 Diagnostic Equipment for PCR tests and evaluation in place. If equipment is not in place by this date, this date will be pushed back until it is.
Starting Aug. 1st
- Removal of health filters set up by the municipality of Puerto Peñasco, under the condition the epidemiological evaluation of cases in the area remains the same. To the contrary, the health filter will remain in place.
- Reopening of businesses known as “Tianguis” (community markets), under the following criteria: 50% capacity / Establishing work schedules, considering all businesses / Possibility to operate multiple days / Owner and/or whomever is responsible must sign Commitment Letter with the Office of Economic Development as well as complete Training Course led by the Office of Civil Protection
- Fulfill all health and safety guidelines
Starting Aug. 15th
- Reactivation of athletic fields (soccer, volleyball, basketball, among others), under the following guidelines: Representatives / promoters of Athletic Leagues will be responsible for fulfilling all previously established health protocols as to any spectators or fans including: use of masks, social distancing, use of antibacterial gel, among others. / NOTE: For those doing the physical activity (players/athletes), use of gloves or masks will not be necessary during play.
- Reopening of Gyms, under the following criteria: Complying with all previously established health and safety protocols / 40% maximum capacity / Owner and/or whomever is responsible must sign Commitment Letter with the Office of Economic Development as well as complete Training Course led by the Office of Civil Protection
- Reopening of public parks, plazas, and other public spaces (this does not include beaches as that is Federal decision and may be prior to or even after this)