Jackson to Ask Peru to Free Jailed American

Chicago Tribune -- 31 August 2000

by Vanessa Gezari, Tribune Staff Writer

Rev. Jesse Jackson pledged Wednesday to make a "moral appeal" to the government of Peru for the release of Lori Berenson, a 30-year-old American woman who has been imprisoned there for almost five years. Berenson, who was sentenced to life in prison for treason, has been granted a new trial in a civilian court in Peru. Her parents said the unexpected decision gives them hope but isn't an excuse to stop fighting for her freedom.

"The main thing is the Peruvians admitted they made a mistake," said Berenson's mother, Rhoda. "It's a great opening, but our goal is Lori's release. It's not over."

The Berensons joined Jackson in the South Side headquarters of his Rainbow/PUSH Coalition after appearing on the "Oprah Winfrey Show" Wednesday morning.

Highlighting his past activities as a humanitarian emissary in Africa and elsewhere, Jackson said Berenson's work as a journalist "offended the sensibilities" of the Peruvian government. He said he had called Peru's president, Alberto Fujimori, and planned to request meetings with him and Berenson.

"We appeal to the president of Peru to use his powers and the good graces of his office to let Lori go free," Jackson said. "She's spent nearly five years in jail. Please let her go free. It is the morally right thing to do; it's good for the nation; it's good for the region." In 1996, hooded military judges in Peru's now-defunct "faceless courts" convicted Berenson for her alleged role in a foiled plot by the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement to seize Peru's Congress.

While Berenson's level of involvement with the group remains unclear, her lawyers were not allowed to cross-examine witnesses who testified against her, and the trial was considered by many international observers to be unfair.

Berenson's parents, retired New York professors, said before her arrest, she was working as a freelance writer for two U.S. journals, researching and writing about the effects of poverty on women in Peru. They said Jackson has been involved in Berenson's case for more than a year, but this was their first meeting with him.

Berenson began her sentence in Yanamayo Prison, 12,700 feet above sea level in the Andes Mountains. She has since been moved to a minimum-security women's facility in Arequipa, where conditions are marginally better. Her father visited her there 10 days ago and said despite health problems, she remains determined to fight injustice elsewhere in the world.

"They can never break Lori's spirit," Mark Berenson said.