Office of the Americas Delegation Visits Lori Berenson
All advice was negative. "You will never be allowed into the prison," said most counselors. "Put off your visit until the Organization of American States leaves Peru," said the U.S. Embassy in Peru.
But we decided to go anyway. Our delegation: Reverend Lucius Walker, Director IFCO/Pastors for Peace; Amy Goodman, host of "Democracy Now", Pacifica Radio Network; Annie Bird, Guatemala Director of Guatemala Partners; Kristen Gardner, college room-mate of Lori Berenson; Patricia Todd of CISPES and delegation leader, Blase Bonpane.
At the Prison
We feared our visit would be only symbolic as we passed through military check-points in Arequipa, Peru on our way to Socabaya Prison. Rabbi Guillermo Bronstein in Lima had given us matzoh and prayer books for Lori to celebrate Passover.
At the prison gate when asked for credentials, we only had a letter from a Peruvian Congressman requesting that our visit to Lori be given consideration. By what seemed a miracle we were admitted and sat with Lori for two hours of conversation. This was the first such delegation to visit Lori during her three and a half years of brutal incarceration. Her parents, however, have been admitted on a regular basis. The six of us came as a human rights delegation and that is what we were.
No one was more surprised at our arrival than Lori. She is a woman of great spiritual strength. She refuses to be intimidated. Her principal concern is the welfare of all prisoners. She is allowed out of her cell for one hour a day. Her eyes have suffered from poor lighting and months of solitary confinement. Her digestive system suffers from a poor diet. Her circulatory system suffers from three years at the notorious Yanamayo Prison located at 12,750 feet above sea-level.
After our visit we met with U.S. Ambassador Dennis Jett in Lima. He was very disturbed that we were admitted to the prison. He was worried that the prison director might lose her job for admitting us. His main concern was that the visit might upset Mr. Fujimori. The Ambassador was most grateful to Fujimori for allowing the United States to establish a military base on the Peru/Colombia border and for repaying Peru's debts to the World Bank. His concern for Lori seemed non-existent.
Rather than be upset by the visit of six U.S. citizens to an unjustly imprisoned fellow citizen, would it not be proper for a U.S. Ambassador to demand her release, to question why such visits are not accepted, to ask why the press cannot talk to her, to ask why she cannot make a statement to anyone, to ask why her mail, both incoming and outgoing, is censored for any word that might be considered political?
We are extremely disturbed by the lack of advocacy for Lori on the part of our government. The State Department and its representatives continue to speak of her in relationship to the activity of the MRTA rebels. She is not a member and has never been a member of this organization. She spoke to members of this organization, however, while preparing articles for two U.S. magazines.
All of us on the delegation are pained by the treatment of Lori Berenson both by the Peruvian authorities and our own government. Please continue to write and to call President Clinton and your Representatives. Remind the President that he is legally obligated by an act of Congress (22 U.S.C., section 1732) to come to the aid of an American citizen wrongfully held in a foreign country. Also remind him that Lori Berenson is suffering physically and needs his help NOW.
Please study the web-site http://WWW.FREELORI.ORG/
We returned from Peru with great sadness as we heard of the assassinations in Colombia of our friend Terance Frietas together with his two companions, Lahe'ena'e Gay and Ingrid Washinawatok. We declare their presence...Presente! Presente! Presente!
The struggle for peace is the victory (la lucha misma es la victoria).