House Rejects Berenson Resolution

The Associated Press -- 21 July 1999

by David Briscoe

WASHINGTON (AP) - The House on Wednesday rejected a California lawmaker's resolution demanding that Peru release an American woman serving a life sentence after being convicted of treason.

Democratic Rep. Maxine Waters said Lori Berenson, 29, was unfairly convicted and should be released after being behind bars for nearly four years.

The State Department has asked Peru to give her an open, civilian trial, arguing that she was denied due process in a summary military trial.

Waters tired to add the resolution to a bill to increase security at U.S. embassies. The House defeated her proposal 234-189 after some members objected that Congress should call for a fair trial, not release.

"If she was wrongly convicted, we want her to have a fair trial," said Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., who tried to get language in Waters' amendment changed. But the congresswoman refused.

"If somebody threatened to blow up the U.S. Capitol and happened to be a Peruvian national and was convicted, we would look very, very askance on the Peruvian congress saying she must go free," Smith said.

Berenson, a native of New York and former Massachusetts Institute of Technology student, was convicted in 1996 of helping pro-Cuban Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement rebels plan a thwarted attack on Peru's Congress.

Peruvian President Alberto Fujimori has said Berenson she is a terrorist and will serve her full sentence in Peruvian prisons. Her parents say she is innocent.