Fix was in for American's trial in Peru, videos show
BY LUCIEN O. CHAUVIN
Special to The Herald
LIMA, Peru -- Peru's former spy chief was planning to rig the
politically troublesome terrorism trial of a young New York
woman two years in advance, two secretly taped videos
The videos seem certain to widen the rift between the
governments of Peru and the United States over the
controversial case of Lori Berenson, whose new trial on
terrorism charges is scheduled to begin later this month.
Berenson was initially convicted and sentenced to life in
prison in 1996 by a secret military court where she had
almost no right to defend herself in a case that has long
been an irritant to U.S.-Peruvian relations.
Last year, a military court overturned the original conviction
and granted Berenson a new trial on lesser charges in a
civilian court. But the videos released Friday show Peruvian
officials two years ago were discussing how they would
grant her the new trial, convict her again, and then possibly
send her home to the United States as part of a prisoner
Berenson's furious mother said Saturday that the tapes
prove what she has argued all along -- that her daughter
can't get a fair shake in Peru. ``The international human
rights community keeps telling us that Lori can't get a fair
trial in these courts, and we don't understand why the
present government would go ahead with such trials under
these conditions,'' said Rhoda Berenson from her home in
Berenson was arrested Nov. 30, 1995, accused of belonging
to the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA. She
was tried and sentenced to life in prison for treason by a
military court six weeks later for her alleged participation in
an MRTA plot to take the Peruvian Congress hostage.
Prosecutors said that Berenson, posing as a journalist,
gathered information on the layout of the congressional
building to help the MRTA guerrillas plan their assault.
The just-released secret videotapes are among several
thousand confiscated from the collection of former Peruvian
spy master Vladimiro Montesinos, now a fugitive after the
government of President Alberto Fujimori collapsed. They
show Montesinos discussing the Berenson case in February
1998 with then-Foreign Minister Eduardo Ferrero and
In the first tape, Montesinos says the military court could
review Berenson's case and the original charge of treason be
dropped in favor of a civilian trial. He adds that she could be
given a 10- to 15-year sentence and eventually returned to
the United States under an inmate exchange treaty.
``Right now I could tell the Supreme Council of Military
Justice to bring her here from Yanamayo [prison]. We don't
need to consult with anyone; we can evaluate it this
weekend and decide,'' Montesinos says.
In another video, taped three weeks later with José
Francisco Crousillat and talk-show host Gisela Valcárcel,
Montesinos talks about Berenson's alleged role in the plan
to take over Congress.
SPY CHIEF'S ASSESSMENT
``Lori Berenson was the gringa and Nancy Gilvonio
pretended to be her assistant, her Peruvian secretary who
arranged interviews'' in the Congress.
``They were reconstructing [the congressional building] and
had an architect making plans and designs,'' Montesinos
Police foiled the MRTA's congressional takeover with a raid
on a guerrilla safe house where Berenson had lived.
During a 12-hour shootout, several MRTA members were
killed and a number of rebel leaders -- including Miguel
Rincón, the group's number three man -- were arrested.
Berenson was grabbed hours before the shootout began
while riding on a bus in downtown Lima. She was arrested
with Gilvonio, who turned out to be the wife of Néstor Cerpa,
an MRTA founder.
The newly released videos show that Montesinos was
keenly interested in the Berenson case long before the
retrial was ordered.