Protection of American Citizens Abroad - American pressure: official and unofficial

Americans who are arrested in almost any foreign country should expect that their host government will promptly notify the United States and that officials—usually from the American consulate—will be present as observers at their trials. Such steps have become standard procedures, the particulars of which have usually been defined in bilateral treaties.

Peru evidently notified the United States when Berenson was arrested, but since her initial trial was secret, an American official may not have been present. In any event, the Department of State was not surprised by her conviction and sentencing on 11 January 1996. On that day the State Department issued a sharply worded note to the Peruvian government. The United States, the note said, deeply regretted that "Ms. Berenson was not tried in an open civilian court with full rights of legal defense, in accordance with international juridical norms." The note went on: "The United States remains concerned that Ms. Berenson receive due process…. We call upon the Peruvian Government to take the necessary steps in the appeals process to accord Ms. Berenson an open judicial proceeding in a civilian court."

When President Alberto Fujimori visited the White House in May 1996, demonstrators outside chanted, "Fujimori, free Lori." Inside, President Bill Clinton urged that Peru grant Berenson a fair trial in a civilian court. In August, Representative Bill Richardson, a Democrat from New Mexico and the Clinton administration's informal diplomatic troubleshooter, went to Peru. He and Fujimori discussed several possible solutions, including the exchange of Berenson for a Peruvian jailed in the United States.

Meanwhile, the congresswoman representing the Berenson family's district was collecting letters in both the House and the Senate calling for the young woman's release. Former President Jimmy Carter joined the cause. Human rights groups on a number of college campuses sent letters to the World Bank asking that body to block loans to Peru, and to American corporations urging them not to invest in that country. Operating out of their apartment in New York City, Berenson's parents set up a web site encouraging such protests and drawing media attention to their daughter's imprisonment. By the autumn of 1996, an unidentified Peruvian official described the case as "a stone under everybody's foot." The government wanted to rid itself of this source of tension with the United States, but officials also had to satisfy a public that believed Berenson was guilty.

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