Peru needs to release imprisoned U.S. citizen

Knight Ridder/ Tribune -- 19 May 2000


by Bernardo Ruiz

The United States should demand that the government of Peru release Lori Berenson, a 30-year-old U.S. citizen who has been held as a political prisoner there since January 1996.

A secret military tribunal _ presided over by a hooded judge _ convicted Berenson of treason against quot;the fatherland.quot; Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori says that Berenson helped the Tupac Amaru guerilla movement plan a raid. Berenson and her family steadfastly deny the charges. quot;I do not believe in violence, and it would not be possible for me to participate in violence,quot; Berenson told The New York Times.

The former MIT student was sentenced to life in prison with no possibility of parole. According to Amnesty International and the U.N. High Commission on Human Rights, Berenson did not receive a fair trial.

Berenson is currently serving her sentence in a cell without light, heat or running water. In January, she went on a two-week hunger strike to protest conditions in prison and throughout Peru.

Berenson's lawyer, former U.S. Attorney General Ramsey Clark says, quot;If we had support from the U.S. government, we could have gotten her out immediately.quot; To this day, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and President Clinton have been reluctant to pressure the government of Peru for her release. Although Clinton has signed a congressional resolution warning Peru that it could face political and economic sanctions if electoral irregularities crop up in the run-off election for president on May 28, he has inexplicably remained silent on the Berenson case.

The Clinton administration's failure to pressure Fujimori to release Berenson quot;could endanger U.S. citizens not only in Peru, but in many other countries,quot; said a letter signed by 180 members of the House of Representatives last year. Members of Congress are actively seeking Berenson's release. Reps. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., have been particularly active in this effort. It is time for the Clinton administration to demand justice for this U.S. citizen. The Fujimori administration, under the heightened scrutiny of the elections, should be pressured to release Berenson without further delay.