News from Lori's Parents
17 July 2006In this update:
- Latest News
- Lori's Commentaries Aired on Radio
- Father's Day Visit to Lori
- A Visit to Lori Berenson in Perú
Since our last update in January Perú held its presidential elections and Alan Garcia was returned to office after a 15-year hiatus. His first term was characterized by scandals, corruption, extreme inflation, the growth of terrorism and state-sponsored human rights abuses. He claims he has a more mature perspective now let's hope so.
President Toledo, who is to leave office on July 28th, has spent this past week in Washington, soliciting support in the US Congress for bilateral trade pact. While in Congress he heard from members about their unhappiness over Lori's continued incarceration.
President Toledo was told that Lori's 20-year sentence is disproportional to the sentences given over the past three years to hundreds of political prisoners who have been retried. Even the majority of those found guilty of violent acts were given shorter sentences than Lori who was convicted only of being a secondary accomplice and not of any involvement in violence. President Toledo was also reminded that for more than 10 years Lori has been a political football, kicked around by Peruvian politicians and the press particularly because she is a U.S. citizen.
We thank all of you who keep reminding your Representatives and Senators about Lori's situation.
Lori's Commentaries Aired on Radio
Lori's radio commentaries continue to be aired monthly and can be accessed at www.prisonradio.org or on the www.freelori.org Website. Loris commentaries are recorded by Aura Bogado in both English and Spanish. We thank her.
Father's Day Visit to Lori
Mark visited Lori for Father's Day weekend with Lea Wood, the Vermont Coordinator of the Committee to Free Lori Berenson. Lori and Lea have been exchanging letters since 1997. Lea is a remarkable individual and, as she approaches her 90th birthday, serves as an inspiration to all whom she meets. Lea has been an activist for social justice her entire life. A terrific writer, Lea has prepared the article below for publication on her visit with Lori .
Lea Wood at the Cajamarca airport, in front of the LC Busre 18-seat plane she took to visit Lori. Behind that plane is a Peruvian military plane.
Lea Wood shows the ink stamps the Peruvian prison required on her right arm.
Lea Wood shows the ink stamps the Peruvian prison required on her left arm.
A Visit to Lori Berenson in Perú
by Lea Wood
I first saw Lori standing at the gate inside Huacariz prison of Cajamarca, Perú, a slender figure in a white bib apron over jeans and a black turtleneck sweater. She greeted her father and me with a warm hug. My first impression was of how beautiful she is, how self-possessed and honestly herself. But her rosy cheeks and swollen red fingers speak of circulation problems from her three years at 12,700 feet altitude in Yanamayo, the thinness of her once luxuriant brown hair of impairment in her health during 10 1/2 years of imprisonment. She is 36.
Lori led us into a large, bright kitchen where she bakes and sells cakes, rolls and pastries with other prisoners. She cooked on two little stoves on the floor consisting of wire coils encased in ceramic plugged into the wall. We watched her at work: injecting crème into crème puffs, dipping them in chocolate. She carried a plate of them outside to be sold. She rolled out a slab of phyllo dough and folded it for later use. She made us a lunch of chicken and pasta soup, skinning a chicken breast, chopping green beans, carrots, ginger root, squash, and shelling peas. Lori works fast and talks fast, graceful in her movements, though she has osteoporosis of the spine and must usually wear a body brace.
For Father's Day she had baked a heart-shaped chocolate cake, sharing it with other prisoners as well. Her father brought a heavy suitcase of food, and we took her shopping list to the Central Market for more. All prisoners depend on their families to supplement the meager prison ration. Lori's parents alternate visits, each now making three trips a year.
Both the UN and the Inter-American Commissions on Human Rights (IACHR) ruled in 1999 and 2002 respectively, that all Lori's rights must be restored with compensation. Perú's response was to ignore the UN Human Rights Commission, and to challenge IACHR in the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. The Court's preliminary draft decision favored her in 2004, ruling for her release and compensation, and thenunaccountably and for the first time in its historytwo weeks later rescinded the draft decision! The 20 year sentence stood. Lori, her parents, and her supporters had all counted on the Court for justice.
On our second day, Lori took us to her cell. The barred door was blocked with a strip of sheet metal, and a board to keep the rats out she explained. All concrete, 6 by 10, her bed a concrete bench against the wall with a foam pad, and on other side her toilet area: two shelves above a hole in the floor, a faucet at the top dripping water into a bucket. Lori sat in the doorway with her guitar and sang for us. She has a lovely voice and I wondered: what if she could be on Perú TV and the country saw a more positive view of her than the irate image of her staged presentation in 1996 still dragged up any time she is in the press. Successive Peruvian governments and the media continue to use her as a poster child of terrorism. Interestingly it was the policies and actions of ex-President Fujimori, who fled to Japan to avoid trial for his crimes against the state, that influenced Perú against Lori.
In November 2003 Lori married Anibal Apari who was also imprisoned in Yanamayo. He was paroled after 12.5 years, and resumed studying law. I met him in Lima, a good-looking 42, with a quiet smile. Of a future family, Lori says "I dont want to have a child in prison."
When I asked her how her supporters can help, she quickly answered: "Shut down Guantanamo!" Prison has never stopped Loris social activism. She writes essays for Prison Radio which someone reads in Spanish and English. She wrote about her 10th Anniversary in prison and about the Perú elections. Silence is the voice of conspiracy reads a large sticker on her kitchen binder. She has proclaimed this view throughout her life in actions, letters, articles and hunger strikes. Indeed she came to Perú to write about the lives of the poor, as well as to study the culture. Now she'd like to study nursing when free and help the poor that way.
Her imprisonment is an indictment of governments, including our own, who have sacrificed her for political ends. After fifteen imprisoned years she is eligible for parole. Somehow we must try for better than that.