Peru's Problems: Nation needs a free press and independent judges now

Houston Chronicle Editorial -- 29 August 2000

Peru's top military court announced Monday that it has overturned a life sentence imposed by hooded military judges four years ago on Lori Berenson, a New York native convicted of helping Marxist rebels plan an attack on the Peruvian Congress.

It's a small victory -- a very small one -- that highlights again some of the very big problems facing Peru and the lack of freedoms it affords its citizens.

Berenson, whose relationship to leftist factions is murky at best, is to be given a new trial in a civil court, but it is questionable whether she should be tried at all.

The speculation is that the court announcement, coming despite President Alberto Fujimori's earlier vow not to let it happen, is part of a political effort to shore up deteriorating relations with the United States in the wake of Fujimori's re-election last May in a race that was characterized as far from free and fair. And that's not to mention Fujimori's subversion of the Peruvian Constitution by seeking a third term.

The fact is, Peru has problems with the rule of law and the guarantee of freedoms across the board.

A delegation from the Inter American Press Association has been meeting with Fujimori and other officials this week in Lima to stress the critical need for more press freedoms and an independent judiciary.

The Organization of American States has issued a rebuke of Fujimori's inaction on a promise to institute reforms such as a judiciary free from government and military control.

A first-ever meeting of South America's 12 countries is scheduled Aug. 31-Sept. 1 in Brazil to discuss, among other issues, how to shore up democracy in the region. Ecuador and Paraguay should be lauded for retaining democratic regimes after attempted coups. Peru's government, on the other hand, is among those that should be high on the list of threats to freedom that must be dealt with.