After 15+ years of imprisonment after being convicted of aiding the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) in Peru, Lori Berenson is home – until January 19th, 2012 when she must return to Peru to finish her 20-year sentence. I will leave it to others to make her case, it was moving to me when it began for I had known many young women similar to Lori: intelligent, idealistic, committed, and disturbed by injustice in the world. Lori was different because, I am informed, she put her life on the line.
Now at 42, with a son born in prison, she walks with the elegant dignity and clear eyes of a martyr, not of a cause, but for the defense of human dignity no matter how misguided that impulse may have been in the mid-1990s. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lori_Berenson
Martin Mejia/Associated Press, Updated: Dec. 20, 2011
Lori Berenson, a former university student from New York, was convicted in 1996 of collaborating with a Peruvian Marxist rebel group in a foiled terrorist plot. She was sentenced by a military tribunal to life in prison for treason but at a new trial in 2001 her sentence was reduced to 20 years.
In May 2010, a Peruvian judge ordered Ms. Berenson released from prison but said she must remain in Peru while on parole. Her parole was revoked in August, but in November a judge reinstated it, restoring a semblance of freedom, or what amounts to it. She slipped out a side door of the prison where she was being held and back to the wrath of her neighbors.
Ms. Berenson is out on parole, but is technically still serving a 20-year sentence, which is due to be completed on Nov. 29, 2015.
In December 2011, she made her first visit to New York since her arrest, after having won permission from a court to leave the country for several weeks.
Many in Peru view Ms. Berenson as a reprehensible symbol of the turmoil that afflicted the country in the 1980s and 1990s, when almost 70,000 people were killed in that period of war and rebellion. A Maoist group, the Shining Path, was responsible for more than half of the deaths. Networks in Peru still broadcast a 1996 appearance by Ms. Berenson that is seared into the country’s memory. Fists clenched, she shouted, “There are no criminal terrorists in the M.R.T.A. It’s a revolutionary movement!”
The tale of how Ms. Berenson, the daughter of New York college professors, became one of the most scorned people in Peru remains remarkable in all its twists and turns. Once a top student at the prestigious La Guardia High School in New York and then at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she surfaced in Peru in 1994.
The police arrested her on a bus in Lima in 1995, hours before they raided a four-story house she had rented, where they found 8,000 rounds of ammunition, 3,000 sticks of dynamite and more than a dozen members of the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or M.R.T.A.
She still insists that she did not know about the M.R.T.A.’s plans of violence. At the military tribunal she was found guilty of renting the house that was used in a failed plot to take the entire Peruvian Congress hostage. The authorities sent her to a dank cell in Yanamayo, a prison high in the Andes.
Behind prison walls, life went on. In 2003, she married Aníbal Apari, an M.R.T.A. militant whom she met while both were incarcerated. She was allowed conjugal visits with Mr. Apari, now released and acting as her lawyer, even though they are now divorcing. She gave birth in 2009 to their son, Salvador, a citizen of Peru and the United States who has spent most of his life in prison with his mother.
Ms. Berenson holds that the Peruvian authorities violated her right to a fair trial during closed military proceedings in 1996, and then deprived her of due process rights in another civilian trial in 2001, when she was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Considering that two American presidents — Bill Clinton and then George W. Bush — both pressed Ms. Berenson’s case with their Peruvian counterparts without securing an early release, the judge’s 2010 decision to grant parole came as something of a surprise.
A few voices have urged Peru to move on and accept apologetic words from a woman reflecting on the mistakes of her past. These opinions are often drowned out, though they include the country’s president, who has expressed his view while allowing judges to handle her case.
“All this fear over a little woman who already spent 15 years in jail?” President Alan García said in an interview. “It is a right to make a mistake in life, and it is a right to be punished and released when that punishment is finished.”
It is still not clear when Ms. Berenson’s punishment will end. Mr. Galindo, the antiterrorism prosecutor, is again appealing her parole. A tribunal expects to rule soon, potentially returning her to prison for the remainder of her sentence, until 2015.