Protection of American Citizens Abroad - The road to a new trial

The United States may not have had any advance notice of Peru's decision in August 2000 to concede to demands for a new trial in a civil court, yet the State Department was certainly aware that the Fujimori government had become vulnerable to American pressure. Fujimori's political fortunes had plunged at home, and he had come under sharp criticism in the U.S. Congress. In the Senate, bipartisan support had emerged for linking foreign aid payments to Peru to "substantial progress" toward holding fair elections and respecting human rights, free speech, and the rule of law, as had a threat to cut by half the $125 million allocated to Peru in foreign aid.

Fujimori could not offer much resistance. He had come under fire at home for forcing revision of the constitution so that he could seek an unprecedented third term as president. Then his opposition found two serious charges to bring against him: widespread fraud in the balloting for president and a key aide's corruption. Given these circumstances, Peru's judicial system did what it could to placate the United States. The country's supreme military tribunal, presumably the same body that had earlier described Berenson as a "dangerous leader" of the MRTA, cleared the way for a new trial by announcing that she had not been proven guilty of treason.

However, Fujimori quickly found that these and other steps were not enough to save him. He fled to his parents' home country, Japan, from which he sent word of his resignation to Lima. An interim president took office, and a new presidential election in the spring of 2001 brought Alejandro Toledo, the most prominent of Fujimori's opponents, to office in midsummer. Shortly thereafter Berenson's parents appealed for a pardon for their daughter from president-elect Toledo, but he turned down the request. He explained to reporters that presidential intervention would be a poor way of initiating his administration's efforts to build an independent judiciary. The trial had been open, and he intended to respect the independence of the courts. Toledo added that he had visited with Berenson's family in New York City during the latter part of June but refused to reveal the substance of their conversation.

State Department officials in Washington told reporters soon after the second trial that the embassy in Lima had reviewed with Berenson options she might pursue. The department thought that a request for clemency or a pardon offered the best chance, especially if she first requested—as she was entitled to do under a United States–Peruvian treaty—transfer to a prison in the United States. Berenson had rejected each of these possibilities. Her position appears to have been that since she was innocent of the charges against her, she refused to request a pardon for something she had not done. Moreover, she refused to ask for any special consideration. To do so would separate her from people who had been unjustly arrested and convicted with her.

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