Berensons Hopeful of Bush-Peru Trip

Associated Press -- 19 March 2002

by Drew Benson

LIMA, Peru - President Bush's visit to Peru on Saturday will focus on trade and the drug war, but the parents of Lori Berenson hope Bush also will seek the release of their daughter, imprisoned here for terrorism.

"I'm not saying it's part of the written agenda," Mark Berenson said from his home in New York. "But as a father, I expect the president of the United States will bring up Lori in some manner."

Berenson, 32, has been jailed for six years in Peru and must serve out the rest of a 20-year sentence unless she is pardoned by Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo or the Inter-American Court of Human Rights overturns her conviction.

The New York native was initially sentenced to life in 1996 by a military court of hooded judges for being a leader of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, but that sentence was overturned in 2000 and the case was sent to a civilian court.

The civilian court sentenced Berenson in June to 20 years in prison for helping the Tupac Amaru rebels plot a thwarted attempt to seize Peru's Congress in 1995. She was acquitted of being a member of the rebel group. The Supreme Court upheld both decisions in February.

Berenson maintains that she is innocent and that her concerns for social justice were wrongly portrayed in Peru as a terrorist agenda.

A pardon for Berenson would be unpopular in Peru, where she is seen as a foreign terrorist in a country that suffered through years of guerrilla violence. Top Peruvian officials have ruled out a pardon, but Toledo, who makes the final decision, has not spoken publicly about the case.

Bush will meet with Toledo on Saturday in Lima to discuss trade, drug trafficking and terrorism and depart the next day for El Salvador. Berenson is not officially on the agenda, but U.S. Ambassador John Hamilton said Tuesday that "whether the issue is dealt with depends on President Bush."

Through their Web site, Berenson's parents, Mark and Rhoda, have urged supporters to call the White House this week to urge that Bush "do all in his power to secure Lori's release on humanitarian grounds."

Mark Berenson said he did not know if support for their "Free Lori" campaign has dropped following the Sept. 11 attacks against the United States, but that linking his daughter to terrorism would be a mistake.

"If that's the case, then there is confusion on the definition of terrorism and people haven't looked into (Lori's) case," he said.

The Berensons have appealed to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights. The body, which went into spring recess on Friday, has not taken action on the case.

The commission could recommend the case to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights, which has the authority to order Peru to overturn Berenson's conviction.

Berenson also has the option of serving out her term in a U.S. prison. According to her father, she has ruled out a prison transfer because it would imply she had accepted her guilt.