News from Lori's Parents

20 October 2000

Written by Gail Taylor
Revised November 2000

Mark and Rhoda are leaving today for Perú.

In this update:

48 Hours interview

Last night "48 Hours" aired their piece about Lori. This resulted in a good newspaper article from the Associated Press, entitled "Berenson Declares Innocence on TV." Similar articles appeared in several newspapers.

We have received a number of questions from people who watched the show. Much of the information in the show was not new and has been included on the website and in previous updates. Questions about Lori's work in El Salvador and the MRTA list of prisoners they wanted released during the hostage crisis are answered on the website.

Note that the portion of Lori's interview that was televised was less than 10 minutes. Peter Van Sant said the complete interview was about 40 minutes long, so we did not see the sections where Lori discussed her family, prison conditions, and gave more complete answers to the questions presented. Also, the piece did not discuss the conditions of Lori's current trial. Lori's due process rights are currently being violated according to the Peruvian Constitution and international law, specifically the American Convention on Human Rights, ratified by Perú in 1979. She is assumed guilty until proven innocent, as evidenced in statements by President Fujimori, other Peruvian officials, and the Peruvian media. Lori sees her lawyer less than one hour each week, if at all, not allowing for adequate access to legal representation to prepare a defense. She still has not been notified in detail of the charges against her. In addition, Lori is being put at "double jeopardy" by the civilian trial.

Below are responses to some of the questions we have received:

Why does Lori not denounce the MRTA?

This is an inappropriate question recently asked of Lori by Peter Van Sant of the CBS "48 Hours" program. It is of concern to us that Lori would be asked questions that could lead to her being tried by the media before she is tried by the courts. Unluckily, the civil courts will not provide a fair trial, so media coverage and political forces will have great influence on the outcome of Lori's trial. If Lori had not answered the question, in Perú that would have been presumed to be a refusal to denounce, but Lori would not have been able to explain herself. If Lori had denounced the MRTA, that would have gotten back to MRTA members who are witnesses against her and may have influenced their testimony. Stating that she would not denounce the MRTA will be used against her in her trial, but at least it gave her the chance to explain her point of view. She had very little option once presented with this question, and any of the options would have been used against her.

Lori very clearly stated that she does not believe in violence, does not advocate it, and would never participate in it. She has stated this in letters to the human rights community, to visitors she has received in prison, and in media interviews. In addition, in her recent testimony she made it perfectly clear that she was never a member of, never associated with, never assisted, and never knew any planned activities of the MRTA.

However, Lori does not believe she has the right to judge another person. She has worked for much of her life on human rights and justice in Latin America. There is a history in Latin America of people living in poverty, without economic justice and under severe repression, having no channels to express political dissent. Lori empathizes with the struggle of the people to survive, to have dignity and to have basic political rights.

In the interview with CBS's "48 Hours," Peter Van Sant said to Lori that the MRTA was responsible for a number of killings and asked if she plans to denounce them during her trial. Lori responded, "I don't see why I have to denounce the MRTA. I don't have a right to give any judgment. I'm not going to denounce anyone." Earlier in the interview she said that murdering innocent people is wrong, but trying to change one's life is not necessarily wrong.

Lori is saying that she does not agree with the use of violence, but that she will not pass judgment on the individuals. She (and many of us) has never walked in these people's shoes and she does not have the right to denounce them.

Lori has shared prison life and suffering with MRTA members for the past five years. She knew little about the MRTA before she entered prison, but over the past five years has learned more about it from her cell-mates and has developed a personal knowledge of and sympathy for the individuals struggling to improve their lives.

To what extent did Lori know MRTA members?

Lori now knows that three of the people she met during the nine months she was in Perú are MRTA members. But before her arrest she did not know their real names or that they were involved in MRTA activities. Lori had met Castrellon, a Panamanian, while traveling. Lori was with him when he rented the La Molina house. Nancy Gilvonio (wife of Nestor Cerpa, MRTA leader) was arrested on the bus when Lori was. They had met a few weeks earlier and Lori knew her as a Bolivian photographer named Rosa. At some point Lori was introduced on a social basis to Rincon by Castrellon, but Rincon had used a different name. As Lori stated in an interview with the Washington Post, "My relationship with the other people accused was a social relationship, talking about things. Until I was in jail I finally figured out more or less what they are, which is much different than what I thought originally...."

Lori had lived in the La Molina house before the MRTA rented the third floor. It was a large house with several tenants, like a large boarding house. Lori did not know most of the other residents. In fact, the MRTA members who lived there have recently testified that they did not know her and did not see her in the house. She had never gone to the third floor, or into the rooms rented by others. At the time of Lori's arrest she was living in an apartment across town in the district of San Borja.

Lori had various friends and acquaintances in Perú who were not members of the MRTA. After Lori's arrest, these people did not come forward and Lori would not give their names because to do so is dangerous in Perú. Unfortunately, when she was arrested there were two telephone numbers on Lori's beeper and the antiterrorism police brought these people into DINCOTE for interrogation.

- Rhoda and Mark Berenson