New Yorker Describes Harsh Imprisonment in Peru

New York Times -- 6 September 2000

by Shaila K. Dewan

In her only interview from a Peruvian jail, Lori Berenson describes the harsh conditions of her confinement and tells how her captors have mistreated her fellow prisoners.

The interview was conducted in March 1999 by Pacifica Radio, and was made public only yesterday. The Peruvian government decided last week to grant Ms. Berenson a new trial and void her life sentence. But in the interview, to be broadcast at 9 a.m. today, Ms. Berenson said that a new trial would be a delaying tactic for the Peruvian government, which has faced criticism from the United States government and the Organization of American States about the case. Ms. Berenson, a New Yorker, was convicted of treason in January 1996 by a military tribunal in which judges wore ski masks and her lawyers were not allowed to cross-examine witnesses.

"With such publicity that I've had, such negative publicity that I've had in Peru, I would never get a fair trial," she said, according to a transcript of the interview provided by Pacifica. She added that no evidence had been presented at her first trial.

The interview was conducted in the Socabaya jail in Peru by Amy Goodman, the host of the Pacifica program "Democracy Now," but was not broadcast immediately out of concern that Ms. Berenson would suffer repercussions, Ms. Goodman said yesterday. But last week, Ms. Berenson was moved to Lima, out of the reach of Socabaya prison officials.

According to the transcript, Ms. Berenson said that in December 1995 she spent 11 or 12 days in a cell with a woman who had five bullet wounds. "They had left her on a dirty mattress, naked," Ms. Berenson said. "A filthy mattress with five open wounds, which is pretty horrendous. I mean, there were rats in my bed and things like that."

Ms. Berenson, 30, has had health problems from the high altitude of Yanamayo, the Andean prison where she was held for the first three years of her imprisonment. But she told Ms. Goodman she was not moved to Socabaya until the day before the O.A.S. Human Rights Commission was scheduled to hear her case.

Ms. Berenson criticized the United States for what she said was its cozy relationship with President Alberto K. Fujimori of Peru. "There's been some pressure at certain times, but not heavy pressure, not heavy enough pressure, because I'm still here," she said.