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Replacing a Toyota Sequoia tail gate latch

The plastic latch on my 2003 Sequoia broke while the tailgate was down and locked. I’ve purchased a new fixture, but cannot figure out how I can access the old (broken) one. It appears that I need to remove the interior panel, but there is no way to get at the edges of the panel while the tailgate is closed. And I can’t open the tailgate because the latch is broken…

Anyone been here before? It seems this latch failure has been a common problem, so there must be a simple(?) solution.

You may have to break out the rest of the plastic handle to gain access to the latch rod so it can be pulled to open the tail gate.