The US activist Lori Berenson has been sent back to a Peruvian prison just three months after she was freed on parole. Berenson had served nearly fifteen years following her 1996 conviction for collaborating with the rebel group the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA. We go to Lima to speak with Lori Berenson’s mother, Rhoda Berenson. [includes rush transcript]
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
JUAN GONZALEZ: We begin today’s show in Peru, where a three-judge panel has ordered the American activist Lori Berenson back to prison to serve the remaining five years of her twenty-year sentence. Berenson and her fifteen-month-old son Salvador had been free since May, when she was released on parole.
Berenson is the American activist who was arrested in 1995 in Lima, accused of collaborating with the rebel group Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA. She was initially sentenced to life in prison for treason, but four-and-a-half years later, due to international pressure, her sentence was vacated. She was retried by a civilian court, which reduced her sentence to twenty years.
On Monday, Berenson appeared in a Peruvian courtroom and pleaded for the judges to allow her and her son to leave for the United States in order to seek medical treatment. She apologized to the people of Peru.
LORI BERENSON: [translated] If my participation contributed to societal violence, I am very sorry for this. If my coming to Peru has meant more harm to the country, I am very sorry for this. And those who are affected by my words or actions, I ask their forgiveness.
AMY GOODMAN: Lori Berenson also told the court she does not pose a danger to anyone.
LORI BERENSON: [translated] I lament the repercussions that my parole has had on society. This has always been a media case, since I was detained. The truth is, despite how it hurts me, I accept that I have been ostracized, but according to the law and based on my behavior, I do not represent a danger for anyone.
AMY GOODMAN: For more on the story, we’re joined on the telephone by Lori Berenson’s mother Rhoda Berenson in Lima, Peru. Rhoda and her husband Mark run the website freelori.org.
Rhoda, welcome to Democracy Now! Can you explain what has happened? Why has your daughter Lori and her son Salvador, your grandson, been reimprisoned?
RHODA BERENSON: Hi, Amy.
There was an appeal on Lori’s parole. Right after she was granted parole in the end of May, the state prosecutor appealed that. That’s a process that’s permitted. Either side can appeal. And that was what was being studied in the courtroom, and there were papers that went back-and-forth on Monday. And there were a couple of main issues that the prosecutor had brought up, namely that Lori did not serve a full fifteen years — that’s three-quarters of her sentence — but had been shorter, because she had worked. If you do work-study time, you can shorten that. It’s a standard procedure, and that’s how everybody had done it in the past.
And there was also an issue about the apartment that I’m right now sitting in, as to whether or not the police had seen the apartment prior to the decision to giver her parole. The police come and check that the apartment really exists and that people aren’t saying they’re moving someplace that doesn’t really exist. So that was what the issue was, the decision yesterday, that because the apartment hadn’t been checked before the judge granted parole, that the apartment must be checked, the judge then has to say the apartment was checked and then, once again, decide whether or not to give Lori parole, and that, in the meantime, Lori must return to prison. So, because there was a technical error, because the judge did not order the house inspected, Lori had to return to prison until this is all settled.
And it’s absolutely outrageous. And actually, after — while Lori was living here, the police do come and check once a month. That’s a standard parole procedure that every — so they’ve been here. It was all ludicrous. I mean, there was a famous Peruvian lawyer who was last night saying it’s, you know, just ludicrous to send her back to prison until you finish that up, because then they can appeal again. So they haven’t really decided on any issues other than this technicality. So I know it’s probably complicated for your listeners, but there was a technicality in the original decision to giver her parole, and Lori had to be imprisoned until that is resolved, which will probably take a couple of months, at which point, we assume that that’s going to be taken care of. The judge will once again say she’s granted parole. She’ll then be out on parole again. But then again, this is Peru, so you never know. But that’s what our assumption is. But then it may be appealed again. So, this is — this is something that only happens to Lori Berenson. You know, we’ve been at this for fifteen years. Hundreds of Peruvians who have been involved in political terrorism cases have — [no audio]
AMY GOODMAN: Rhoda?
We seem to have lost Rhoda Berenson, mother of Lori Berenson. Again, she has been reimprisoned along with her son Salvador. Rhoda Berenson, speaking to us from Lima.
Rhoda, did we reestablish a connection?
RHODA BERENSON: Yes, I’m here. When did you lose me?
AMY GOODMAN: Just in the last second. Juan?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Rhoda, I’d like to ask you, you were mentioning the — this is Peru. As you were talking, we were showing some of the video to those of our audience that have video access or TV access, showing the frenzy of the press around this case. Could you talk about the climate in Peru ever since Lori was released?
RHODA BERENSON: Well, the climate has always been like that for Lori, if anything happens and her name is mentioned. But the press in Peru — [no audio]
AMY GOODMAN: Hmmm. Well, I’ll tell you what we will do. We will go to a break, see if we can get her back on. Rhoda Berenson is who we’ve been talking to, mother of Lori Berenson. Lori and her son have been reimprisoned to serve out the full twenty-year sentence, after she’s already served fifteen, though her mother says this may be a technicality and she could be out sooner. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re trying to have an uninterrupted conversation with Rhoda Berenson, the mother of Lori Berenson. Lori has just been reimprisoned in Peru. Juan?
JUAN GONZALEZ: Well, yes, before we were cut off, Rhoda, I was asking you about the media reaction to Lori’s release a couple of months ago.
RHODA BERENSON: Well, the reaction was horrendous. You know, there is nothing Lori can do that they don’t turn against her. And they’re physically — when, any time either Lori, I or — last night was Lori and her baby, were almost crushed. I mean, the baby was screaming, because the priests come swarming right in on you. And, of course, when that happens, the immediate media reaction was, "Well, she shouldn’t have had her baby with her." You know, this is like — you know, it’s like blame the victim kind of thing, when, of course, if she didn’t have her baby with her, they would have yelled, "She doesn’t have her baby! She’s abandoned her baby!" There’s nothing Lori can do that they don’t twist in a negative way. I mean, nobody knows her real story. Nobody knows that she was not convicted of being a member of a terrorist group, that she was acquitted of that. Nobody knows that. They make up any — she can walk down the street, and they call her assassin. You know, she’s certainly never assassinated anybody. Nobody knows the facts. They just quote anything they like. And it’s — so, for the entire time she was out, there were articles every single day about Lori Berenson, Lori Berenson, Lori Berenson.
AMY GOODMAN: Were you afraid for her —-
RHODA BERENSON: Are you still there?
AMY GOODMAN: Yes. Were you afraid for Lori and her son Salvador’s safety during the period that they were out?
RHODA BERENSON: We had -— there were some threats. You know, we were nervous. I really didn’t expect anyone was going to physically attack either of them. And, you know, I would say a huge majority of the population is anti-Lori, but we still managed to walk the streets and have people come up to us and say, "Lori, not everybody’s like that. We’re on your side." So, it was — yes, we’re always nervous here, because people recognize us.
AMY GOODMAN: Rhoda, can you explain what Lori was convicted of?
RHODA BERENSON: She was convicted of renting an apartment which was used by the MRTA. Also, at the time, she had been charged with being a member of the group and helping plan things or — you know, all of that, she was acquitted of. So she was found guilty of renting the apartment for her. And I think in her little speech the other day, she said she accepts responsibility for that.
AMY GOODMAN: Has Salvador, her son, gotten the operation that he needs?
RHODA BERENSON: No, that’s scheduled for November. And certainly we’re hoping that Lori is out on parole. And, you know, with the Peruvian public feeling so uncomfortable, for whatever reason they have, with her, it just makes sense, in my mind, that they all say, "Throw her out of the country."
AMY GOODMAN: Does she want to come to the United States?
Well, we lost Rhoda Berenson again, but we’ll have to leave that for another day. Rhoda Berenson, the mother of Lori Berenson. Again, Lori Berenson and her son Salvador, fifteen months old, have been put back in prison after serving fifteen years. Lori faces another five.