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2000-09-06

Exclusive–Lori Berenson Speaks!

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Today in Lima, Peru, the process of interrogation of witnesses began in the civilian trial of Lori Berenson, the American who was serving a life sentence in Peru on charges of "treason to the fatherland." Last week, a military tribunal voided her sentence, saying they will now send her case to a civilian court. [includes rush transcript]

Last Thursday, Lori was moved to a maximum-security prison in Lima. Today, in a Democracy Now! exclusive, we release the tape of the only interview ever done with Lori Berenson. It is the first time that her voice will be broadcast to the public since she was sentenced to life in prison almost five years ago. Last March, I traveled with a US delegation to visit the Socabaya prison, where Lori was being held.

Berenson was convicted of helping the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement plan an assault on the Peruvian Congress. She was tried by a hooded military judge, and prosecutors used secret evidence against her. For three years, Berenson was held in the frigid Yanamayo prison in the Andes mountains in an unheated, open-air cell without running water, where her hands swelled like boxing gloves from the cold, and she developed gastric and eye problems. She was later transferred to the Socabaya prison, but there too she was held in complete isolation for many months. (Amnesty International has called her total isolation "cruel and unusual punishment," while a working group of the United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights determined that "the detention of Lori Berenson is arbitrary and in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights," as well as the International Pact of Civil and Political Rights.)

Lori met us in the prison courtyard, where we sat on six chairs surrounding her. This was her first interview with a US delegation and the very first interview with a journalist. Keeping in mind that Lori was speaking a year and half ago, she begins here by talking about the civilian trial, which began today in Lima.

The Reverend Jesse Jackson says he wants to go to Peru and bring Lori Berenson home. The Reverend Jackson stood outside the Peruvian mission in New York yesterday with New York Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and held a news conference calling for Lori Berenson’s release.

Guest:

  • Mark Berenson, Father of Lori Berenson.

Tape:

  • Jessie Jackson

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN:

Today in Lima, Peru, the process of interrogation of witnesses has begun in the civilian trial of Lori Berenson, the American woman who is serving a life sentence in Peru on charges of treason against the fatherland. But last week a military tribunal voided that sentence, saying that Peru will now send her case to a civilian court. Last Thursday, Lori was moved to a maximum-security prison in Lima.

Today, in a Democracy Now! exclusive, we release the tape of the only interview ever done with Lori Berenson. It’s the first time her voice will be broadcast to the public since she was sentenced to life in prison almost five years ago.

In March of 1999, I traveled with a US human rights delegation to visit the Socabaya prison in Arequipa, Peru’s second city, where Lori was being held. Lori was convicted of helping the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. She was tried by a hooded military judge. Prosecutors used secret evidence against her. For three years she was held in the frigid Yanamayo prison in the Andes mountains in an unheated open-air cell without running water, where her hands swelled like boxing gloves from the cold and she developed gastric and eye problems. She was later transferred to the Socabaya prison, but there, too, she was held in complete isolation for many months. Amnesty International has called her total isolation cruel and unusual punishment, while a working group of the United Nations high commissioner of human rights determined that, quote, “the detention of Lori Berenson is arbitrary and in violation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.”

Well, on March 2nd, 1999, a year and a half ago, Lori Berenson met us in the prison courtyard. I was with a group headed by the Office of the Americas in Los Angeles. We sat down on six chairs with her in the courtyard, and we are now going to broadcast excerpts of the first taped interview with Lori Berenson. Keep in mind these excerpts have been approved by both her lawyer and her parents.

Lori begins by talking about the civilian trial, which began today in Lima. Again, this tape from a year and a half ago. 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. This is Lori Berenson.

    LORI BERENSON: I think it’s a way of delaying it, and civilian trials in Peru also can last six years. In my case, at this point, with such publicity that I’ve had, such negative publicity that I’ve had in Peru, I would never get a fair trial.


AMY GOODMAN: Lori Berenson made these comments a year and a half ago, when I joined a human rights delegation headed by Blase Bonpane of the Office of the Americas in Los Angeles and Reverend Lucius Walker of Pastors for Peace in New York. We went to Peru in March of 1999, flew to the Socabaya prison, where Berenson spent 150 days in solitary confinement.

Today for the first time you’ll hear Lori Berenson speak about prison conditions, her hopes for the future, the charges she faced as a leader of the MRTA, the rebel group in Peru that would a year later take over the Japanese ambassador’s residence. The comments are excerpts of a longer interview screened by Lori Berenson’s parents and her lawyer, former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark.

We began by talking about the Yanamayo prison, where Lori has spent the first, well, two to three years of her life. The prison is in the Andes with extremely high mountains, where wardens are rotated out every six months to deal with the altitude, but prisoners can remain there their entire lives.

    LORI BERENSON: In Yanamayo, the coldness is pretty — more than the coldness in itself is the fact that there are different sort of circumstances that exacerbate the situation, in which one feels — you know, like the climate. People — the harassment, in the sense of — you know, they used to send in a special forces of the police, and they actually hit, whacked people on the head.


AMY GOODMAN: In case you have any trouble understanding what Lori is saying, she said the authorities used to send in the special forces of the police and whack people on the head. She also said the authorities felt she had proved her guilt by raising concerns first about jail conditions and only then about her own case.

    LORI BERENSON: I have a difficult time saying, "Well, I — you know, deal with me. You know, forget about the rest of them that are dying.” I can’t do that. It would be off the wall. [inaudible] Conditions were actually pretty worse — pretty bad. So when I complained, I complained about that. I didn’t complain about, you know, me. And that was the problem. Or at least I didn’t complain about me first. I complained about — in general, about jail conditions, and I complained — I think it was just about jail conditions and about the civilian trial.

    AMY GOODMAN: So first you talked about jail conditions. Then?

    LORI BERENSON: And then I mentioned, in general, the judicial system. I said, you know, there are a lot of people who are here who are here unjustly. And so I mentioned my — you know, in that context. Generally, what I always mention is the military court. I was tried by a military court.


AMY GOODMAN: Lori Benson was tried by a hooded military judge, a gun put to her head and those of her defendants as the sentences were read. And they then were sent off to the Yanamayo prison high in the Andes, where the conditions were extremely grave. But she said the situation, after a few years, changed, well, for her, when the Organization of American States took up her case. It’s then that they moved her.

    LORI BERENSON: I was moved the day before my case was to be seen in the OAS human rights — Inter-American Human Rights Commission. And that was more than my health, because, I mean, although my health has failed in jail, it’s certainly not nearly as grave as — there are several people who are really in serious shape. I could even say life or death. I mean, I was moved with three people who were in wheelchairs because of cerebral damage from mostly — at least two of them, I believe, was from torture. And I remember in my — when one of the women — two of the women I lived with were in really serious health conditions, one from bleeding ulcers, the other one from cerebral damage from torture.

    AMY GOODMAN: At Yanamayo?

    LORI BERENSON: Yes.

    AMY GOODMAN: And where were they moved to?

    LORI BERENSON: No, they weren’t moved. I was the only one moved. That’s why I’m sure it’s not for health reasons.


AMY GOODMAN: In case you missed any of that, the recording conditions are not what you’d call ideal at the Socabaya prison. But Lori Berenson said that while she was moved to Socabaya prison, women in much worse shape than she, though her health was failing, too, women who had been tortured and suffering cerebral damage, were not moved because their cases were not being considered by the Organization of American States.

But let’s go back a little further to those days in December of 1995 right after Lori was arrested, how she ended up at the Yanamayo prison, and then at Socabaya, and now at the Chorrillos prison in Lima, as the state considers another trial for Lori Berenson. After she was arrested, taken off a bus by the DINCOTE — that’s the military antiterrorist police — she was brought to their offices, and she was held. While she was held for a period of time, not speaking with anyone, a woman was brought into her cell. She describes her condition.

    LORI BERENSON: And she was in pretty — she had five bullet wounds: two arms — two arms, two legs, and one that entered her bladder and intestines. So she was in pretty lousy shape. They had left her on a dirty mattress naked, probably with a shirt on or something. You know, a filthy mattress with five open wounds, which is pretty horrendous. I mean, there were a lot of rats and like.

    AMY GOODMAN: How many days was she in the cell?

    LORI BERENSON: I was in the same cell with her for probably eleven or twelve days before.


AMY GOODMAN: It was after this period that Lori Berenson was taken by the military police, the DINCOTE, and presented before the press. This minute would be the last recording of Lori Berenson as she headed back to jail. She says they told her she had a minute to speak and that there were no microphones. And so, she sounded angry, she was speaking fast, and she was agitated.

    LORI BERENSON: It’s a reaction to the way — to the holding conditions in general. And a reaction to the —-

    UNIDENTIFIED: To the holding conditions?

    LORI BERENSON: To the system, to the whole -—

    UNIDENTIFIED: To what you saw.

    LORI BERENSON: No, to what was going to come, because when I talk about institutionalized violence, in the sense of hunger and misery, it’s all a sense of, you know, how they kill people in DINCOTE. And I was aware of that at that time.

    AMY GOODMAN: How long were you held without being allowed to talk to anyone, from the moment you were captured?

    LORI BERENSON: We were in singular cells. We were not in — until like the 27th, when I was put in with another person.

    AMY GOODMAN: December 27th?

    LORI BERENSON: Yeah, December 27th. With my Peruvian lawyer, I was not allowed to see him before I testified — not testify, before I gave my statement.


AMY GOODMAN: Soon after, Lori was presented to the press. She and several others were brought before a hooded military judge who pronounced her guilty of treason. He said she was a leader of the MRTA and was sentenced to life in prison for treason against the fatherland.

    AMY GOODMAN: Did they present any evidence at the trial?

    LORI BERENSON: No. In the actual trial? No, absolutely nothing.

    AMY GOODMAN: Are you innocent of the charges?

    LORI BERENSON: Yes, of the charges. Yes, I’m innocent of all the charges they’ve made against me.

    AMY GOODMAN: Which brings us to the US and what the US is doing here around your case, the US government. What is the US doing? Are they helping?

    LORI BERENSON: There has been some pressure at certain times, but not heavy pressure. Not heavy enough pressure, at least, because I’m still here.

    AMY GOODMAN: Do you think if they did put pressure, you wouldn’t be here? I mean, the US administration?

    LORI BERENSON: I mean, I think, in the sense of more than the Congress in itself. I mean, all the military aid they give them and that kind of support and the patting on the back of Fujimori every time that he does anything. I think he feels like he’s fine.


AMY GOODMAN: Again, this was Lori speaking a year and a half ago. At this point, more than half the US Congress and forty-three senators have signed a letter calling for Lori Berenson’s release. At the same time, the Peruvian president, Fujimori, is under enormous pressure, having since 1999 taken power a third time, this in a kind of election coup that even the US was forced to admit was deeply flawed.

But Lori has always been more interested in grassroots movements than electoral politics. She talked about the general living conditions of Peruvians.

    LORI BERENSON: Well, I do know that in the last years, the living conditions of the general Peruvians are so — are much worse, since the neoliberal plan has been implemented. It still seems to be a society that is quite unjust, in which the entire, not only the left, like the center opposition, everyone is so scared, they won’t say anything. So scared, the press won’t say anything. And so it just leaves you in a position in which there’s — to me, there’s very little democracy, I mean, a real right to live, a right to, you know, health, happiness. I think it’s actually worse. And you have to — you need democratic opening in a society, so that people have a right to say, “Hey, I’m not in agreement with this.”

    AMY GOODMAN: Lori is there any last comment you would like to make, here and through this, as a comment to people?

    LORI BERENSON: I think we should be aware of the situation. Being — lived here by my — by my person and the people — and hopefully change conditions in, in general, the jails and in Peru.
    I hope that I will be freed and live — get out of here at some point.

    AMY GOODMAN: If you got out, what would you do?

    LORI BERENSON: I’m sorry? In what sense?

    AMY GOODMAN: If you were let out?

    LORI BERENSON: I mean, I think my — I have dedicated my adult years to social justice issues, and I do not plan to stop doing that. I mean, I think I’d be much more useful in this world, for myself as a person, for other people in this world, not in the sense that, like, I’m a useful person, but in the sense that I could be much —- I could do much more with my life, and maybe for other peoples’ lives, if I was not here.


AMY GOODMAN: Lori Berenson, American prisoner in Peru. Her body may be in jail, but her words have escaped.

President Fujimori of Peru is in New York this week for the largest gathering of world leaders ever. He will be at the St. Regis Hotel on Friday.

You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now! When we come back, we will hear from the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who says he wants to go to Peru and bring Lori Berenson home. Again, those the first words that Lori Berenson has spoken publicly since she was sentenced to life in prison by a military tribunal. You’re listening to Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.

[break]

AMY GOODMAN: You are listening to Pacifica Radio’s Democracy Now!, the Exception to the Rulers. Today, a Democracy Now! exclusive: the words, the voice of Lori Berenson.

And now we turn to the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who stood outside the Peruvian mission in New York yesterday with New York Congress member Caroyln Maloney and held a news conference calling for Lori Berenson’s release. The Reverend Jackson.

    REV. JESSE JACKSON: Let me express my thanks on behalf of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition, on behalf of Congresswoman Maloney and Mr. Berenson and to his wife, who is in Peru today. We met the family last week in Chicago. We made preparations to go to Peru, to meet with Mr. Fujimori and to meet with Lori in jail there, to make a moral appeal to him on humanitarian grounds to release her. She’s been in jail for nearly five years now. She is no threat to Peru. To release her is to bring a wall down, to build a bridge, to make better relations between the nations. While we are prepared to go to Peru, he will be in New York the next two days. We hope to meet with him while he is in the city at this time.

    Each time we’ve made these moral appeals, humanitarian pleas, to gain the
    release of someone held captive, there’s always been some argument, some reason to keep them there. But there must be an even greater argument and even superior reason to set the captive free. We went to get Lieutenant Robert Goodman from Syria, and the case made by Mr. Assad was they were two American pilots in uniform threatening his country. And while there may have been some mention of threat, there was an even greater possibility of opening dialogue between the US and Syria. And one byproduct of releasing Lieutenant Robert Goodman was Mr. Reagan and Mr. Assad then began communications. Mr. Castro made the argument that he had been in isolation thirty years and he should keep Americans held captive there. We said someone had to take the risk to build a bridge, and forty Americans and Cuban Americans were released from jail there.

    We made the same case with Saddam Hussein in Iraq, when he was going to use women as human shields before the Gulf War started. Again, we made the appeal to him to take the risk for peace, to build the bridge, to send the gesture that there are no downsides in peace gestures.

    Last year, when bombs were falling in Yugoslavia, we met with Mr. Milosevic and said to him: though bombs are falling, and three American soldiers are here, don’t use them as trophies. Don’t let them be impediments to peace. Release them and build a bridge.

    In that same tradition, we appeal to Mr. Fujimori to release Lori, to let her go. She’s been in jail five years. If there is any break, it is that the military court has determined that perhaps it was an error in their judgment. She never had a jury of her peers, never could submit her own evidence, and they determined five years later that, in fact, it must go from military system to a civilian court. That is a qualitative, quantitative, material break in this case. I hope that Mr. Fujimori will meet with us while he’s in the city this week or to allow us to come visit him in Peru and in fact visit her and be a factor in gaining her release.

    Thank you very much.

    REPORTER 1: Rev. Jackson, do you have any indication that he will meet with you? Do you have any kind of a communication that -—

    REV. JESSE JACKSON: We do not. We called this offer several times last week.
    They said he would be in New York this week. I’ll be a part of UN activities during the course of the week. I expect to see him, hopefully, formally and directly — if not, informally and indirectly, but to make the appeal to him. If he comes to the city to do what United Nations, to bring down walls and to build bridges and to overcome yesterday’s scars, to go forward by our dreams and not backwards by our fears.

    We’ve seen the labeling of terrorism across the years, and we’ve seen people overcome those labels. It was not long ago that the ANC, the African National Congress, could not go thirty miles outside of New York. They were called terrorists. It was not long ago that the PLO could not travel thirty miles outside of New York, and Andy Young was fired for talking with a PLO representative. But in time we’ve overcome these scars. We’ve built bridges. And I say, between the US and Peru, let’s build another bridge. Let’s give peace a chance. Let’s release Lori, that she might come home and be set free.

    AMY GOODMAN: More than half the Congress has called for Lori Berenson to be free, but President Clinton has not made a public statement calling for her to be freed.

    REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, I’ll appeal to him to do so. We see everything to gain and nothing to lose by seeking her freedom. It’s the morally right thing to do. It’s also a chance to build bridges between nations. I hope Mr. Fujimori can hear the rational and the moral appeal of our reasoning and let her go.

    Today, her hopes are rising, because the military court has determined that she was falsely imprisoned in the first place. Her mother is there with her. We expect to go there and be with her, but not just to be with her, but to seek her release and bring her home.

    REPORTER 2: Rev. Jackson, what do you tell Peru that it is in their best interests to release her? Why would this be in their best interest?

    REV. JESSE JACKSON: Because as they seek stronger diplomatic relations and trade relations and be a member of the family of nations, a lack of human rights, political prisoners are impediments. So in their own quest to be a part of the family of nations and their own quest for diplomatic ties and trade ties, releasing her is an asset, and keeping her is an impediment.

    REPORTER 2: Do you think that’s what they what to do, that they’re looking to do?

    REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, I would like to think that there are reasons, both material and moral. And my case is not that of a lawyer or that of a general; it is that of making a moral appeal. Peru is not safer because she’s in jail. Relations are not better because she’s in jail. But they could get better if she is freed from jail. It would have, at this point, a worldwide impact.

    AMY GOODMAN: You were with Vice President Gore yesterday. Did you raise the issue of Lori Berenson with him?

    REV. JESSE JACKSON: Did not raise that issue yesterday with him. It was not the appropriate time. Nor does he have the power, at this point, to really release —- I mean, to make the appeal. In some sense, President Clinton has the authority to do that. But more than that, Mr. Fujimori himself has the power to use extraordinary powers to release her.

    This time two weeks ago, there were four journalists in jail in Liberia, and we appealed directly to President Taylor. And they went through a process for a week, but then we kept making the appeal, joined by Nelson Mandela. And after a week of appeals, Mr. Taylor let four journalists go free last Saturday. We hope that Mr. Fujimori will, in that same spirit, let Lori go.

    REP. CAROLYN MALONEY: Twice members of Congress have joined me in traveling to Peru to free Lori Berenson, and many of us will be going again to Peru on her behalf for this trial -—


AMY GOODMAN: New York Congress member Carolyn Maloney.

    REP. CAROLYN MALONEY: — and whatever the outcome, appealing on humanitarian grounds that she be allowed to come home. On Friday, there is a meeting that I’ve been invited to with President Fujimori, and we are hopeful that Reverend Jackson can come, if he’s in town. But he will probably see him before then. But there is a meeting on Friday with President Fujimori.

    REPORTER 3: With Lori Berenson on the agenda, or...?

    REP. CAROLYN MALONEY: Lori Berenson is always on my agenda.

    REPORTER 4: What’s the purpose of the meeting with Fujimori?

    REV. JESSE JACKSON: He’s having a luncheon here in one of the hotels. He’s a part of the UN —-

    REPORTER 4: Yeah, I understand that. Are you invited to the luncheon in some other aegis? Or what’s the reason?

    REP. CAROLYN MALONEY: I’m invited to the luncheon, and I’ve also appealed for a private meeting, but -—

    REPORTER 5: Will that happen?

    REP. CAROLYN MALONEY: — he knows — he knows that I’m interested in Lori Berenson, so if I’m invited, I’m sure that’s the agenda, or a certain — a part of it.

    REPORTER 4: You’re invited to the luncheon?

    REP. CAROLYN MALONEY: Yes, yes.

    REPORTER 4: Or the private meeting?

    REP. CAROLYN MALONEY: The luncheon.

    REV. JESSE JACKSON: I think it’s also important to know that when we shed light on the predicament of political prisoners, it always helps, because the nation stands to lose by imprisoning her and stands to gain by releasing her. This is not good news for Peru. It’s not good news for the Berenson family. It’s not good news for diplomatic ties. It’s not good news for trade. There are no upsides in keeping her, and there are all upsides in releasing her. And even if there were a rub, five years in jail is long enough.

    I think, ultimately, our case rests on the moral appeal. The fact is, the military court found, after five years, that they did not have a case to be made, and they just kicked it from military to civilian. The case is prejudiced against her there. The likelihood that she can have a fair trial by a traditional means is not great, and therefore the moral appeal is the correct appeal, the appeal between our two countries. We will urge world opinion to be a factor in gaining her release. And I’m hopeful, because while we have been down, we know that the ground is no place for champions, and we are champions. In our quest for peace, our quest for human rights, she will be set free, because our hope will outlast the cynicism and the fear.

    REP. CAROLYN MALONEY: He has a good record. He’s brought a lot of people home.

    REPORTER 6: The original charge against her was treason, which is kind of weird for somebody who’s not a citizen of the country in which they’re charged. Do you have any indication of whether that would be repeated as a charge, or is there some other charge that this civilian court would bring?

    REP. CAROLYN MALONEY: I think the main point — I think you raised a very, very important point that she was — how in the world can you convict someone of treason when you’re not even a member of that country? And so, I think that there are a a lot of arguments in her support. She, for the first time, will be able to submit evidence. She’ll be able to question evidence. But the main point is the point that Reverend Jackson has made so eloquently, and that is a humanitarian appeal, a just appeal. She has served five years, now we hear, under evidence that was faulty, and it is time for her to come home.

    He’s better than I am.

    REV. JESSE JACKSON: Well, no.

    REP. CAROLYN MALONEY: You take this. You tell them. Humanitarian, right?

    REV. JESSE JACKSON: But when these four journalists were arrested in Liberia — the two from Britain, one from South Africa, one from Sierra Leone — they were charged with treason and espionage. And what happens when governments react to repress, they drop their strongest charges to make their case. It’s almost a kind of overkill. She was not a spy, did not engage in treason against a government that was not her own. She was labeled a terrorist because she showed sympathy to those fighting for the poor and the defenseless, which is the morally right thing to do.

    But at some point in time, we must remove the scars of yesterday’s fears. After all, Peru’s best days are in front of it, and Mr. Fujimori has an opportunity to seize this moment, to let her go free, but more than that, to in fact reassess the whole human rights question. I mean, the people of Peru need strong ties with our country. They need strong diplomatic ties. They need strong trade ties. They need investment. And political prisoners under these conditions are impediments to growth. And, of course, when growth does not occur, the people hurt.

    Thank you very much.


AMY GOODMAN: The Reverend Jesse Jackson and New York Congress member Carolyn Maloney in Manhattan yesterday calling for the release of Lori Berenson, whose civilian trial, it looks like, has just gotten underway, beginning with the interrogation of various witnesses.

Mark Berenson again joins us, Lori’s father. Her mother, Rhoda Berenson, is in Lima right now, as she tries to slow down the process that is taking place, along with their attorney, former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark.

Mark Berenson, what is happening right now?

MARK BERENSON: As far as we know, the judge will be going to visit Lori this morning in the prison to try to get testimony from her, and she’s going to simply tell the judge what she said last Thursday: "I am not represented. I don’t have adequate time to prepare. We have not found a lawyer. I don’t know that I even want to have a lawyer and legitimize a farce and illegitimate system. I need time to prepare a case. It is wrong for you to go ahead." And we understand from the Peruvian papers, which are as correct as a broken wristwatch — they’re right one time in every twelve — in this morning’s papers, they’re saying there was testimony given by other people against Lori yesterday, without Lori having representation present. Why are they steamrolling this? This is democracy? This is due process? I don’t know all the facts. I’m not able to speak regularly with my wife. She and Ramsey are working the system, trying to learn the parameters, learn the limitations, and see whether we want to participate, or whether Lori should do this thing herself and just act on her own behalf, rather than try to legitimize a farce.

AMY GOODMAN: Has anyone explained the rules of a civilian trial, to you ?

MARK BERENSON: As far as I know, Rhoda and Ramsey Clark have not yet, as of last night, been totally apprised of what the process is, how long it takes, what the parameters are. They’re still waiting to find out that information. And with this, Peru allegedly is steamrolling and starting the case without Lori’s representation. This is due process? This is democracy? This is justice?

AMY GOODMAN: Well, in the same way there might be some steamrolling going on in Peru, there is certainly a growing movement here. Last week you were on the Oprah show and then went over to a news conference with Jesse Jackson in Chicago with Stevie Wonder.

MARK BERENSON: Yes, that was wonderful to meet Stevie Wonder, a great humanitarian and world-famous musical genius. And he was on the stage, and I asked, "What are you doing here?" He said, "Well, I’m here with Mr. Jackson. He’s explained this case to me. I’ve been following it for a very long time. Lori has been wronged. This is unjust," and said something to the effect that she must be released.

AMY GOODMAN: Yesterday, when you were on, and today, with lot of attention to these newly released tapes of Lori Berenson speaking, not in that setup situation of coming out of being in a closed cell with a woman who had been shot five times, but speaking to us at the Socabaya prison a year and a half ago, you told us yesterday about the four names that were on the appeal that Lori made, instructed to do so really by the Peruvian government, which ultimately led to the voiding of her military sentence in the last week. Can you tell us who are the four top government people who said that they have known that Lori Berenson is not a leader of the MRTA.

MARK BERENSON: Yes, to put this in context, it’s over a year that the Peruvian government came to us and to the United States to tell them that they had information that Lori was not this horrible monster that they created then, but unfortunately demagogued and continued to create during the runoff of President Fujimori’s victory recently. And when we went to investigate this, they provided us with four names, so that we could have that in the petition that Lori filed. The four names are Admiral Luis Giampietri, who retired, the highest-ranking admiral in the Peruvian navy; current ambassador to the United Nations Jorge Valdez Carrillo, Peruvian ambassador, permanent representative to the United Nations; the third person that testified, gave his affidavits on this, was the former Bolivian ambassador to Peru, the Honorable Jorge Gumucio; the fourth person who was named in this, but did not — and perhaps because of political reasons after — did not provide testimony that was named in the petition is the current vice president of Peru, former foreign minister, and former permanent representative ambassador to the United Nations Francisco Tudela, who’s in New York today.

AMY GOODMAN: And these are the four people who have said to the Peruvian government that they know and have evidence that Lori is not a leader of the MRTA. I want to thank you, Mark Berenson, for being with us. And what do you think, as you hear your daughter’s voice, though you do get to visit her?

MARK BERENSON: Well, I think that now the world doesn’t see the screaming person who was outraged by the treatment of Lucinda, the woman who she said had five bullet holes and a spilling colostomy bag and rats running around Lori’s bed adjacent to hers in a six-and-a-half-by-six-and-a-half, filthy, small holding cell that caused the outrage. I think you can hear a human voice, where Lori says, "I’m innocent of these charges," where she says prison conditions in Peru are awful, that many people have been tortured, that the journalists are afraid to speak out, that society has had that problem. Now, there has been some change due to the presidency of Alejandro Toledo. But in the end, we still have a repressive system there, and Lori would — if she knew about that, would probably continue to say that. At least you hear a human being who cares about social justice and cares about humanity and those less fortunate than herself.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, let’s go out of this segment by again hearing the closing words of Lori Berenson. Again, the excerpts that we played were approved by Lori’s lawyer, former US Attorney General Ramsey Clark, and her family, her parents Rhoda and Mark Berenson. Mark, who joins us today. Lori Berenson.

    AMY GOODMAN: Last comment you would like to make, here and through this, as a comment to people?

    LORI BERENSON: I think we should be aware of the situation. Being — lived here by my — by my person and the people — and hopefully change conditions in, in general, the jails and in Peru.
    I hope that I will be freed and live — get out of here at some point.

    AMY GOODMAN: If you got out, what would you do?

    LORI BERENSON: I’m sorry? In what sense?

    AMY GOODMAN: If you were let out?

    LORI BERENSON: I mean, I think my — I have dedicated my adult years to social justice issues, and I do not plan to stop doing that. I mean, I think I’d be much more useful in this world, for myself as a person, for other people in this world, not in the sense that, like, I’m a useful person, but in the sense that I could be much — I could do much more with my life, and maybe for other peoples’ lives, if I was not here.


AMY GOODMAN: Lori Berenson, speaking from prison in Peru. If any network, if any radio station, if any micro radio station, any community group wants to broadcast these words, you can get in touch with us at Democracy Now! here in New York at community radio station WBAI of Pacifica Radio, and we’re making those cassettes available.

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