Bush Vows to Review All Options to Help Peru

Reuters -- 22 March 2002

by Steve Holland

MONTERREY, Mexico - President Bush vowed on Friday to consider "all options" to help Peru fight terrorism in the wake of a car bombing near the U.S. Embassy in Lima that killed nine people.

Bush was to leave on Saturday morning for a 17-hour visit to the Peruvian capital amid extremely tight security following Wednesday night's blast for which no one has claimed responsibility.

"We're going to analyze all options available to help Peru," Bush told reporters when asked if he was prepared to offer Peru new military assistance to combat terrorism.

He urged the U.S. Congress to revive the Andean Trade Preference Act, which offers trade benefits for the Andean nations of Peru, Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia.

"I'd like to see it renewed as quickly as possible," he said.

Congress failed to extend the measure before it expired last year, and exporters in the four countries have since faced duties on products ranging from flowers to asparagus that they had shipped to the United States since 1991 without paying import taxes.

Surveillance flights, Berenson

Bush said no decision had been made on whether to resume U.S. drug surveillance flights, which contributed to the April 20, 2001 accidental shootdown of a U.S. civilian floatplane by a Peruvian military jet, killing two Americans.

"We're analyzing not only what took place in the past, but the most effective way to help Peru fight narcotics," he said.

A senior U.S. official said Bush would raise the case of Lori Berenson, a U.S. woman convicted of aiding Marxist rebels, when he meets with Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo on Saturday.

"It is an issue. It's on the agenda," the official told reporters in Monterrey, where Bush attended a U.N. development conference.

"We are always interested in the well-being of U.S. citizens in foreign countries. We are interested in justice being done. ... And we are interested in U.S. citizens being treated fairly in the justice system of any country," the U.S. official added.

In February, Peru's top appeals court upheld Berenson's 20-year sentence on terrorism charges, exhausting her legal options in Peru.

At the time, Berenson's father said he would petition Bush to apply an article of the U.S. penal code to "come to the rescue of any Americans wrongfully held in a foreign country."

Berenson was arrested in late 1995 and jailed for life as a leader of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) by a military panel.

20-year sentence

Her conviction was overturned in 2000 and a civil retrial ordered. That court convicted her last June of helping MRTA rebels with whom she lived plot an attack on Congress and sentenced her to 20 years, meaning that with time served, she would be jailed until two weeks after her 46th birthday.

Berenson's options now are to take her case to the Washington-based Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which can refer it to the region's top rights court; to hope for a pardon from Toledo; or to ask to serve her sentence in a U.S. jail.

In June Bush asked then President-elect Toledo to weigh humanitarian factors when deciding Berenson's fate. Berenson spent years in freezing, high-altitude Andean jails and says she suffered eye, stomach and joint problems that still trouble her.