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Congratulations to Peru's New President Toledo

For immediate release

Monday July 30, 2001

Congratulations to Peru's New President

· Now inaugurated, Toledo could soon face a showdown with the U.S. Congress, if not the White House, over the Berenson controversy

· Rather than Peru’s economic needs, Berenson case could come to dominate bilateral relations with Washington

· At a Crossroads: U.S. Policy Regarding Montesinos and Berenson

· Clinton administration did too much for someone it knew to be a villain, and too little for one of its own beleaguered nationals

· Toledo called upon to repatriate Lori Berenson to the U.S. forthwith, based on the fact that the Peruvian judiciary is incapable of affording her or any other political prisoner a fair trial and that she already has suffered far too much during five years of imprisonment

· Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden called upon to conduct hearings regarding charges that the State Department had dragged its
feet on exposing Montesinos and protecting Berenson

"Dear President Alejandro Toledo:

It would be unreasonable to assume that the significant remaining trappings of the Fujimori era’s policy of destroying Peru's democratic institutions will be eliminated by your new government overnight.

But we are worried that you will not do enough to address your country's appalling political record in recent years. This is because your World Bank background could lead you to concentrate on market reforms rather than deal with your country's corrupt judiciary, notorious military high-command, tainted security forces, and lack of social justice.

Nor is the U.S. entirely exempt from blame. In a letter sent today to Senator Joseph Biden (D-DE), the Council on Hemispheric Affairs asks the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee to investigate whether State Department and U.S. Intelligence agencies have done enough to represent the interests of American Lori Berenson; how much did they knew about Montesinos’ venal activities, including his role in human rights abuses and cooperation with drug traffickers; and what exactly they did to stop, or at least expose him, notwithstanding their later assistance in his capture.

The Fujimori-mandated constitution, custom-tailored to accommodate his lust for power and the military (to which he granted an amnesty in 1992 for its large number of human rights abuses), remains intact. Corrupt judges who never failed to support Fujimori’s illegal actions, still preside over Peruvian courts.

The arrest and return to Lima of the fugitive, Fujimori-era spy chief, Vladimiro Montesinos, was a notable start, but your administration must work hard to address all of the problems that have accumulated over a decade of Fujimori’s misrule, including the unjust imprisonment of the U.S. human rights activist, Lori Berenson.

Until all of the democratic institutions upon which he and Montesinos trampled are fully restored, Fujimori’s imprint will remain in Peru and doom your presidency to failure. As for your own agenda, Mr. President, you must realize that the Berenson issue, which is only now beginning to crest as a major concern with the American people, will continue to haunt your relations with Washington, and it can only be resolved in one manner: her immediate unconditional repatriation to the U.S.”

The Case of Lori Berenson

Toledo must do more on the Berenson case than simply see it as a judicial matter into which the executive branch ought not interfere. The fact that 221 House members and 44 U.S. Senators have signed letters calling for Berenson to immediately receive justice is a sign of the seriousness of this matter.

This issue is scheduled to become perhaps one of the dominant bilateral matters between the U.S. and Peru. Toledo won his election by only the narrowest of margins, and probably would have lost it if the campaign period had lasted only a few days more, because the trend was running against him.

He now needs to create a political base at home, which could be jeopardized by a willingness to go to extremes to make overreaching concessions to obtain IMF standby credits. If he accepts its mandated structural reforms, while not boldly standing up to all of the country’s corrupt institutions, including reforming the military and the judiciary, Toledo’s term could be in trouble from the outset.

He must now satisfy the basic needs of his people. For this purpose, the Berenson case could be a distraction, imperiling Washington’s willingness to walk the extra mile to aid Lima, if Toledo doesn’t reciprocate by taking a compassionate step for the U.S. national.

Berenson had traveled to Peru to study the poverty in the region, as she had done before in El Salvador and Nicaragua. Despite the entirely circumstantial nature of the evidence concerning her involvement with the rebels, Berenson was arrested in 1995 on charges falling under Fujimori's radically intrusive 1992 Anti-Terrorism laws.

These measures granted the Peruvian police unqualified rights to detain anyone suspected of collaborating with revolutionaries, or even leaning in a manner they construed to be pro-revolutionary.

In her first trial, presided over by three hooded military judges, Berenson was convicted of "treason against the fatherland" and sentenced to life in prison. The trial, which was devoid of due process, the right to effective counsel, the right to know the charges and to introduce evidence, was a total caricature of justice that drew worldwide condemnation.

She spent the next five years of her life in a prison cell while her supporters mounted a campaign to grant her a new trial. Finally, in 2001, a superior military appeals court granted Berenson a retrial in a civilian court, but evidence indicates that even before the new trial had begun, the guilty verdict was pre-ordained as the result of Montesinos' determination to manipulate its outcome for cheap political reasons—namely, to show Washington that you can’ t push Peru around.

A video leaked to the press shows Montesinos hinting to a colleague that he would like to see the Berenson trial fixed, which would provide him with a bargaining chip to later use with Washington. By arranging for Berenson to receive a stiff sentence, he would then reserve the right to have Fujimori grant her a presidential pardon at an opportune time.

No such deal materialized, however, as Montesinos and his protector, Fujimori, fled the country after another major scandal broke, which was captured on video and relayed to the Peruvian nation, revealed Montesinos bribing an opposition legislator.

But Montesinos left behind a member of his “team” (as he refers to Judge Marcos Ibazeta in the video). Ibazeta, who presided at the civilian trial against Berenson, convicted her for the second time, in another blatant miscarriage of justice.

Now Lori looks at the looming prospect of spending fifteen more years in a Peruvian prison. Invoking the United States Code, Section 1732, supporters of Berenson’s constitutional rights, including this organization, have tried to remind the Bush administration that it has a legal as well as moral obligation to support a U.S. national in trouble abroad and ensure that justice is served.

The State Department has acknowledged this responsibility only to a distressingly limited degree, content to only demand “humane conditions” concerning her confinement and not why she was jailed in the first place.

Montesinos and the United States

Montesinos is in another prison cell, awaiting his trial. He claims to possess incriminating videos of foreign diplomats and businessmen that would cause an "international crisis" if exposed. With such statements as a backdrop, the moment has come for the U.S. to issue a full disclosure of the long and controversial relationship with Montesinos, which predates Fujimori ’s assuming office.

As a young military officer, Montesinos was recruited as a CIA asset for monitoring Lima’s relationship with Moscow, including the purchase of Soviet military weapons for the Peruvian armed forces. When his acts of espionage were made public, Montesinos spent a brief time in jail, but under Fujimori's reign beginning in 1990, his career blossomed as he played a predominating role in carrying our U.S. drug interdiction programs. Over time, as Peruvians grew to recognize the startling influence that Montesinos wielded over Fujimori, “Montechino” became a common derisive epithet.

Throughout the 1990s, Washington continued to channel funds to Montesino's National Intelligence Service (SIN), the major drug-enforcing arm of Peru’s military. U.S. drug officials were appreciative of his seemingly cooperative counter-narcotics stance and his sanctioning numerous U.S.-Peru drug interdiction policies, even though they were fully aware that Montesinos, along with many senior Peruvian military officials, were themselves most likely deeply involved in the drug trade. Under Montesinos, the SIN pursued a heavy-handed agenda, taking on such enterprises as crushing leftist guerrilla movements and committing human rights abuses that included the extra-judicial murders of rebels and suspected civilian collaborators, as well as students and academics.

Washington's Complicity

U.S. officials knew very well of Montesinos' appalling tactics but did not consider making changes in policy toward Peru. According to a U.S. Army Counter-intelligence communiqué, several Peruvian military officials had come forth to warn U.S. officials that Montesinos was "essentially running the state." Despite such damning information, U.S. aid to Peru increased over the decade, peaking at $170 million in 1999.

The arrest of Montesinos promises to test the stability of the incoming administration due to the cascade of accusations against him concerning serious violations of human rights, abuses of power, and activities that amounted to the subversion of democratic institutions. The case of Lori Berenson, the poster child representing the thousands of victims wrongfully imprisoned by Fujimori’s corrupt judges, challenges the new government to find a way to ensure that justice is served, while respecting the autonomy of a hoped-for completely reformed Peruvian judiciary.

“Mr. President, your administration begins its term standing at the crossroads of two not-unrelated and immensely important issues. It must resolve both in order to establish Peru as a legitimate democracy and equip you with the international backing needed for your personal success. Regarding Berenson, you will not be allowed to pretend that she had a fair trial in her second judiciary proceeding. When it comes to Montesinos, you in your own country, along with U.S. officials in theirs, must reexamine the policies that enabled the rise to power of such a corrupt and unscrupulous figure.”

Phil Thompson and Ernest Hartner

COHA Research Associates

The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-partisan and tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the floor of the Senate as being “one of the nation’s most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers.”


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