American in Peru Describes Prison

Associated Press -- 6 September 2000

NEW YORK -- Eighteen months before Peru voided her conviction for treason and said it would grant her a new civil trial, American Lori Berenson said she thought it would be impossible for her to receive a fair trial there, according to an interview broadcast Wednesday morning.

``With ... such negative publicity that I've had in Peru, I would never get a fair trial,'' Berenson told Pacifica Radio in an exclusive interview taped March 2, 1999, in the courtyard of the Socabaya Prison in Arequipa, Peru.

Berenson, 30, was convicted of treason by a military court in 1996 for allegedly helping the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement plan an attack on Peru's Congress, a claim denied by her parents, Mark and Rhoda Berenson. Peruvian officials recently moved Berenson from Socabaya to a prison in Lima and said she would be granted a new trial by a civil court.

Reporter Amy Goodman, who visited Berenson with a U.S. human rights delegation, delayed airing the tape until now out of concern for Berenson's welfare.

``I felt at this point it would be safer to air it now after she's moved out of the Socabaya prison and into Lima,'' Goodman said on the air. Berenson's lawyers and parents screened the excerpts, Goodman said.

In the interview, Berenson complained about the ``coldness'' and the climate of a prison in Yanamayo, high in the Andes Mountains, where she was held for three years before being transferred to Socabaya. She said that her ``health has failed in jail,'' but she emphasized that other inmates were in much worse shape and that she believed some of them had been tortured and beaten.

Berenson said that a month after she was arrested, a woman with five bullet wounds was placed in her cell.

``They had left her on a dirty mattress, naked,'' Berenson said. ``Probably with a shirt on or something. A filthy mattress with five open wounds, which is pretty horrendous. I mean, there were rats in my bed and things like that.''

Goodman said that at Yanamayo, Berenson was held in an unheated, open-air cell and that her hands had swelled to the size of boxer's gloves from the cold. In Socabayo, Goodman said, Berenson was held in solitary confinement for 150 days.

Berenson said she was moved from Yanamayo the day before the Organization of American States' Human Rights Commission was scheduled to hear her case.

She said she is ``innocent of the charges they made against me.'' Asked what she would do if she were freed, she said: ``I have dedicated my adult years to social justice issues and I do not plan to stop doing that.''

Berenson also criticized the U.S. government for sending military aid to Peru and for ``the patting on the back'' of Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori.