News from Lori's Parents

29 March 2001

Day 1,947 of Lori's wrongful incarceration in Peru.
Day 4 of Lori's public hearing.

In this update:

Trial continues at slow pace

On Tuesday, March 27, the chief judge Marcos Ibazeta questioned Lori extensively on her interests in Latin America before coming to Peru. She recounted her work on behalf of the people of El Salvador from 1988 to 1992, years during which El Salvador was in the midst of a civil war. She told the court that she was just one of thousands of US citizens concerned about the toll the war was taking -- the 12-year war ultimately resulted in the loss of 75,000 lives, 8,000 disappearances, and over 1,000,000 persons displaced in a country of 5,000,000 people.

In 1990 and 1991, during the peace negotiations, Lori said that she worked as a secretary for Salvador Sanchez Ceran (also known as Leonel Gonzalez)in the political and diplomatic wing of the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) in their Washington, DC and Managua, Nicaragua offices. Mr. Sanchez Ceran, the leader of one of the five groups that comprised the FMLN, was directly involved in the peace negotiations at the United Nations and at the Organization of American States. Lori said that she did secretarial duties and translations and had no involvement with the military wing that was fighting in the civil war in El Salvador at that time. After peace was established, Lori said she moved to El Salvador in 1992 and continued her work for Mr. Sanchez Ceran in El Salvador's emerging democracy.

Mr. Sanchez Ceran is currently a leader in the FMLN political party and a member of the Salvadoran Congress. Last week, in an interview from Central America, Congressman Sanchez Ceran discussed Lori's work and expressed his hope that the Government of El Salvador would diplomatically involve the Government of Peru to seek her freedom.

Lori will be questioned again today, Thursday, March 29, and then on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of next week. See recent news articles on Lori's public hearing on our web site.

Please act now to secure Lori's release

We must make sure that the U.S. Government understands how unfair the trial proceedings are. We are asking people to call the White House hotline on Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday of next week, and remind the President that Lori continues to give testimony on these days, despite the fact that she is being arbitrarily held and she should be released. If you do not want to call, you can also print letters directly from the web site and send it in, if you have not done so already: Call: 202-456-1111; press 0 and ask for hotline operator

Talking Points

  1. Lori Berenson has been wrongfully held a prisoner in Peru for over 5 years.
  2. She is currently giving testimony before a panel of three judges in a "trial" that does not meet international standards of openness, fairness, and due process (according to the U.S. State Department) and there are already at least 20 violations of due process in this current trial.
  3. The U.S. Government is still obligated to defend its own citizen, and I call upon the President of the United States to do his duty under 22 USC Section 1732, and secure Lori's release- now!

Lori's testimony

Lori also responded to questions on how she developed an interest in Latin America and how she started travelling when she was 18 years old -- something that seemed surprising to Judge Ibazeta. Lori discussed the El Salvador political struggle and the role that she and so many thousands of US citizens had. She answered questions about what she perceived as differences in revolutionary activities and terrorism and she denounced terrorist activities.

Over the three days Lori has given testimony she has made it clear to the court that she is a person with left-of-center beliefs who feels that the respect for human dignity is essential and that all persons are entitled to fundamental rights. She emphasized that she is a political prisoner, jailed only for her beliefs, and that she is innocent of all the charges against her. She has said that she was a political pawn of the Fujimori-Montesinos government and was used for their political advantages. She opined that her trial cannot be fair because the court has been universally condemned as failing to provide due process safeguards. Lori's lawyer, Dr. Jose Luis Sandoval Quesada, is carefully documenting these violations and will continue to forward them to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States.

Lori appears on Peruvian television

On Sunday, March 25, an interview with Lori aired on Panorama, a popular television show in Peru. The web site of Panorama is although please note that I had some trouble finding the place to view past shows. The summary below comes from a supporter in Guatemala who was able to view the show live. Lori also watched the interview in the prison, and noted that the editing that was done was to remove ALL comments she had made about the lack of due process and the lack of fairness in her trial. She estimates this was five minutes of statements.

Many Peruvians still have a false image of Lori from her forced press conference in January 1996. After being detained for over 5 weeks (illegal even under Peru's harsh Anti-Terrorist legislation), and psychologically manipulated, DINCOTE officials gave Lori one minute to speak to the press in January 1996. Quite logically, the psychological and physical pressure of the previous month surfaced in her declaration. Until last Sunday night, this was the only occasion Lori had to speak to the people of the country where she has been imprisoned for over five years.

This television show gave Lori the opportunity to explain how her tormented public statement in early 1996 followed weeks of detention in a dirty jail cell with a wounded woman who was denied medical attention. Typical of Lori's personality, she stated that this woman's treatment was a form of torture, failing to mention the psychological torture that this also implied for her. In much calmer circumstances this time, Lori publicly demonstrated the sensitive, just, and smart woman that she is.

Lori responded to the female reporter's questions with precision and honesty. She emphatically stated, "I am innocent of all the charges against me."

When asked the details of her case, Lori answered sincerely, explaining that she did not know any MRTA members as such before her detention. She spoke of her relations with these accused MRTA members as professional or intellectual and nothing more. She remembered having conversations with these people about Peruvian music, culture and history. When pressed to respond to questions of a more legal nature, she calmly responded that this information will be discussed in court and that she preferred not to discuss it before then.

The reporter solicited details of Lori's arrival in Peru. Lori narrated her travels in South America until she arrived by land in Northern Peru in 1994. Explaining how after investing so much money to arrive in South America, she took the time in transit to get to know the countries that she passed through. It was in this manner that she traveled through Panama and Ecuador before arriving in Peru for social interests and the human rights struggle. Lori made no excuses for her viewpoint; she factually stated her belief that everyone has a right to a dignified life.

A portion of the interview included questions on Lori's opinions on Peruvian politics. When asked what she knew of the MRTA before arriving in Peru, she explained that she had heard of a revolutionary organization with a large social base, the MRTA, but she also knew of the Shining Path. When her opinion of the MRTA was solicited, she admitted, it is a complicated topic. I am not an expert in anything to have an opinion about this group.

At one point she referred to herself as a political prisoner, a term that the general population never employs for persons convicted of terrorism in Peru. When the reporter inquired about this designation, Lori explained that this is how she sees herself. Furthermore, she insisted that she and other political prisoners are not monsters, as many believe. Having the opportunity to meet some of the accused MRTA members in prison, she finds them very human. However she further clarified that she does not participate in MRTA-actions in prison, nor does she partake in the prison officials activities.

Lori emphatically manifested her love for Peru. Despite the reporter phrasing her question to imply that only the insurgent armed rebels in Peru are responsible for Human Rights violations, Lori sensitively expressed that she empathizes with the pain of the family members who have lost their loved ones. Probably quite surprisingly for the Peruvian population, when asked if she regretted going to Peru, Lori honestly replied that she did not.

The most problematic part of this televised interview had nothing to do with Lori or her heartfelt responses. Instead there were parts of the interview, particularly the moments in which the reporter asked Lori her opinion of the MRTA and their actions, when the producers spliced in images of armed rebels and the remains of presumed guerilla explosions and kidnappings. In a very obvious ploy, the producers suggested to the viewing public that Lori was somehow responsible for this violence shown.

Although more positive than one would expect from the Peruvian media that has demonized Lori for years, the reporter asked a series of leading questions on irrelevant topics. Lori was asked her level of knowledge about the recent exhumations of the MRTA rebels killed in the Japanese Ambassador's residence in April 1997. A bit reminiscent of the public portion of her civilian trial last week where she was asked if she smoked and drank alcohol, the reporter solicited more extraneous information, asking if Lori had a boyfriend in the MRTA. Baiting her, the reporter insisted that her parents had affirmed as much on a recent television program. At this point, a clip of Mark and Rhoda Berenson was spliced in as they responded to the question of what they would do if their daughter fell in love with a MRTA member. As any loving parents would, Rhoda Berenson responded that they would accept their daughter's decision. Unfortunately for the non-English speaking television viewers, this rather rapid segment probably gave another impression. Note that the hypothetical question was asked of Mark and Rhoda on a hill overlooking Lake Titicaca in Puno in January 1996, not recently, and the clip appeared on the Channel 7 Prime Time Live Program that aired on February 21, 1996. The question was because of the rumors floating at the time of Lori's alleged lovers.

Despite the questionable editing of the Panorama producers, Lori Berenson once again demonstrated that her sensibility and ideas of justice do not make her guilty. As she herself had the opportunity to express for the Peruvian television viewing public last Sunday evening, she is innocent of the charges against her.

- Rhoda and Mark Berenson