News from Lori's Parents

9 August 2003

In this update:

The death of U.S. Ambassador John Dawson

We are both stunned and very saddened at the untimely passing of the U.S. Ambassador-to-Perú John Dawson - he was only 52 years old.

Ambassador Dawson assumed leadership of the Embassy in Lima in November 2002, at a time of increasing discontent with the government of President Alejandro Toledo. His tenure there was all too brief.

Although our association with Ambassador Dawson was all too short, we knew him to be very dedicated to duty, a man who displayed a high sense of optimism and had much compassion for others. He expressed genuine concerned for us and for Lori, and he was extremely generous in the giving of his time to us.

Ambassador Dawson was the first State Department leader who promised to visit Lori. Although we never used it, Ambassador Dawson gave us access to his cell phone and said we could call him directly, night or day. When Rhoda and Kathy were visiting Perú in February, Ambassador Dawson personally called for them and brought them to his residence because, although it was a U.S. holiday and the Embassy was closed, he wanted to learn first-hand about their visit to Lori.

We will always remember that at an extraordinarily difficult moment Ambassador Dawson made time for us. Mark was scheduled to meet with him at the Embassy on Monday, June 9. Unexpectedly, he had just learned over the weekend that he had a tumor near his pancreas and needed immediate surgery. Rather than cancel that appointment or delegate it to his deputy, Ambassador Dawson spent 45 minutes with Mark, only hours before he was to leave Perú. This gesture was extraordinary.

In that conversation, he expressed his optimism for a complete recovery and his desire to return to Perú ASAP to continue his work. He expressed genuine sorrow that he had not yet had the opportunity to visit Lori in her northern Andean mountain penitentiary but that it was his intent to do so upon his return. Ambassador Dawson and Mark shared information on Lori's case and discussed the political situation in Perú in particular and in Latin America in general. Although part of their meeting was devoted to his illness and its impact on the Embassy functions, the gregarious ambassador was easily able to discuss other topics at a time when so much had to be weighing on his mind.

In the ensuing weeks, we learned that Ambassador Dawson was convalescing in the U.S. and we sent him a card, as did Lori from Perú. We were awaiting good news about his recovery and his return to Perú. This was not to be.

While escorting Mark from his office at the end of their meeting, Ambassador Dawson commented with a wide grin that he had recently lost much weight and was probably "a bantamweight rather than a lightweight." John Dawson may have been a man small in stature but he was a person with a large heart.

Ambassador John Dawson died on Friday, August 1. We want to express our deepest condolences to Mrs. Susana Dawson.

Perú in political and social crisis - Lori urges Peruvian society to objectively seek the "truth"

The final report from the two-year study by Perú's Truth and Reconciliation Commission is scheduled to be presented on August 28. Over the past two months there has been increasing anticipation as to what this report will conclude about the twenty years of political violence (1980 - 2000) and what it will recommend in order to achieve reconciliation within Peruvian society. In the past two weeks, politicians have taken clear sides on the value of the Commission's work and Perú is now a nation divided. Former President Alan Garcia and his APRA party, currently the favorite for Perú's 2006 presidential elections, fear the Toledo administration will try to "use" the report to bring charges against party leaders who may be responsible for horrendous human rights atrocities in the late 80s, including massacres of the political prison populations at two different penitentiaries. The APRA party has threatened to quash the report if its conclusions are unfavorable to them. Meanwhile, the UN Party of Lourdes Flores, currently the second choice for Perú's 2006 presidential elections, seems to take a position of "sensationalism" with its top party leaders making statements and threats that are irrational and absurd - openly declaring that the report from the Commission "must be 'objective' and [even though the preliminary data published to date to do not reflect this] demonstrate that the historical violence was overwhelmingly caused by the subversive groups (Shining Path and MRTA) or they will work to bury the report." During President Toledo's State-of-the-Union speech on July 28, his acknowledged support for the Commission was roundly booed by the Congressional Representatives of both these parties. Joining these opponents of "truth" in this political circus are the Fujimori-Montesinos supporters whose actions are intended to discredit the Commission and the fledging democracy of President Alejandro Toledo in any ways they can. Perú's military and the police have claimed to support the work of the Commission but the bottom line is that these institutions have not really cooperated with the Commission any more than have the aforementioned groups.

Aside from small parties or some independents, the remainder of Perú's political parties, including President Toledo's PP, have been joined by the Church and the local human rights community in support of the Commission's work. In addition, numerous international human rights organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and WOLA sent a letter to President Toledo urging his administration to follow up on the recommendations in the forthcoming report. Lori's published commentaries over the past few weeks indicate her support for the work of the Commission. She questions why certain elements of Peruvian society are afraid of "truth" being revealed.

Lori's latest commentary (in Spanish) now has been placed on the homepage of the Website. In it she pleads for sanity and objectivity in the search for "truth." She points out that the aforementioned opponents must be stopped from their efforts to quash the Commission's endeavors and she urges Peruvian society to realize the recently growing hysteria over the alleged rebirth of terrorism is a fabrication aimed at killing the work of the Commission, discrediting the Peruvian human rights institutions and human rights workers, and limiting the ability of the Toledo administration to have the opportunity to move Peruvian society forward.

The opponents of the Commission have erroneously argued that the alleged rebirth of terrorism in Perú occurred because the interim government that succeeded the downfall of the disgraced Fujimori-Montesinos administration was too lenient with political prisoners and, by giving the prisoners more humane conditions - more yard time, access to radios and newspapers, and particularly personal visits rather than the one hour visits in the dark-screened, closed-in locatorios that we endured for so many years without being able to hug and kiss Lori -- has enabled terrorist leaders to get out information to their militants in the jungles and thus has led to a so-called resurgence of subversive activity this year. A few political analysts have been courageous enough to point out that there has not been a resurgence of terrorism, only more sensational reporting of isolated incidents. In addition, it doesn't make sense for imprisoned subversive leaders to orchestrate and direct subversive campaigns at a time when they and their fellow political prisoners might benefit from possible recommendations included in the forthcoming Commission report.

Lori argues that it is always easy for political "windbags" to win public approval by taking a hard line on terrorism - even when it does not exist. In the Peruvian war against the so-called rebirth of terrorism, the politicos have an easy scapegoat, the defenseless political prisoners. Even the Toledo administration has joined the opponents of the Commission in agreeing on the need for tougher prison regulations. After all, President Toledo cannot look "weak" on terrorism.

In her latest commentary, Lori opines that this backlash against political prisoners is unnecessary and inhumane. By taking its wrath out against political prisoners and their families, the Toledo administration will not be solving Perú's real economic and social problems but only serve to further erode human rights in Perú.

- Rhoda and Mark Berenson