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Sonoyta Protesters Allow Travelers Through Border Blockade For Now

Residents in the Sonoran border town of Sonoyta started protesting last week after state officials allowed tourists to pass through the town on their way to the popular beach destination Puerto Peñasco, known as Rocky Point, while enforcing restrictions on nonessential travel at other ports along the Arizona-Sonora border.

Demonstrators used cars to block the road outside the port of entry in Sonoyta and turned away tourists trying to enter.

“We Sonoyta, we’re fighting for Sonoyta," said Carlos Jacquez, spokesperson for the protest movement Sonoyta Unido Jamás Será Vencido. "We are a beautiful country with a lot of culture and beautiful places to visit. But right now we need help to save our lives and save our people. So we're asking people to not come here."

Jacquez said it's hard to turn travelers away — some are families clearly ready with ice chests packed for a beach day. But he said Sonoyta doesn’t have resources to deal with a coronavirus outbreak, and the few dollars tourists spend on gas or some tacos isn’t worth the risk that southbound travelers could be bringing the virus across the border with them.

“For me it doesn’t make any sense that you’re traveling in the middle of a pandemic," he said.

Still, protesters have started letting more tourists through the blockade since Tuesday as part of an agreement with Rocky Point leaders, who agreed to ensure travelers wouldn’t stop in Sonoyta on their way to the beach town, Jacquez said. Rocky Point also promised medical supplies and allowing Sonoyta residents access to Rocky Point for essential reasons. Sonoyta residents, and anyone without a hotel reservation, had previously been barred from entering the town because of protocols to prevent spread of the coronavirus.

“We’ve been respecting the compromise," Jacquez said. "But today is the last day that they have. And if they don't keep their promises we’ll be retaking the blockade tomorrow morning."

In addition to concessions from Rocky Point, the protesters also want the state government to provide better healthcare resources to their town, Jacquez said. If their demands aren’t met, they’ll start turning away visitors again and plan to maintain the protest for as long as it takes.

"We're trying to save lives," Jacquez said, suggesting that whether or not the protesters continue to block the port of entry, U.S. visitors should reconsider nonessential travel into Mexico during the coronavirus pandemic.

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Kendal Blust was a senior field correspondent at KJZZ from 2018 to 2023.