American woman apologizes for collaborating with Peruvian Marxist rebel group

American activist Lori Berenson apologized Monday for collaborating with Marxist rebels and asked an appeals court to let her remain free on parole to rejoin society, make amends to her family and raise her baby.

The native New Yorker, now 40 years old with a 15-month-old boy, insisted that depictions of her as a violent terrorist are untrue, saying repeatedly, “I do not represent a danger to anyone.”

“I have come today because I know that my liberty is at stake,” Berenson told the court. “I was in prison for almost 15 years. I have reflected a great deal over it, and I understand that society was harmed by violence. I understand it and I regret that I participated in it.”

Lori Berenson pleads her case before an appeals tribunal that will decide weather to rescind her parole. Source: RPP ~ Click on image to view more photos from Lori Berenson's hearing.

Berenson was conditionally released in May after serving nearly 15 years of a 20-year sentence for collaborating with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). But prosecutors and Peru’s state attorney for counter-terrorism, Julio Galindo, appealed her parole.

Galindo depicted Berenson Monday as a calculating, unrepentant political extremist who continues to pose a threat to the Peruvian public.

“What is concrete and what is real is that Señora Berenson was not a sympathizer of the MRTA. She is an active participant,” Galindo said.

Berenson, who was specifically acquitted in her 2001 civilian retrial of being an active militant in the MRTA, responded directly to Galindo’s allegation.

“I was sentenced for the crime of collaboration with terrorism, and I did collaborate with the MRTA,” Berenson said. “I have never been a leader, nor a militant. I have never participated in acts of violence nor of bloodshed, nor have I killed anyone.”

She said her perspective had changed during her years in prison and that her overriding concern now is to get on with a productive life in society and to raise her son, Salvador, who was born behind bars.

“I have a family who have sacrificed everything for me, and I would like to pay them back somehow,” she said. “And more than that, I have a child, a 15-month-old son and he is a child I would like to be close to, like any mother. I would like to bring up my son to be a good man.  That is now my objective.”

Berenson’s release was based on a legislative decree passed in 2003 during the administration of former President Alejandro Toledo. The decree allowed inmates who were charged with terrorism to gain conditional parole after completing three-quarters of their sentence. The law was rescinded last year, but not before Berenson had put in her application for early release.

Galindo argued Monday that Berenson was a few months short of completing the three-quarters of her sentence, which made her parole premature and illegal.

When asked by the court tribunal whether counter terrorism police had been keeping tabs on Berenson’s whereabouts since her release, Galindo apologized to the judges, saying he could not because it was a matter of police “intelligence” and that he was not entirely privy to the details.

“For obvious reasons, since that is a job of intelligence, I could not at this time say how this job has been carried out,” Galindo said. “That they have done so, yes, the intelligence tasks have been carried out.”

Berenson’s attorney, Anibal Apari, who is also the father of her son, interjected that the police, together with the Attorney General Office, have “carried out three visits to the domicile” where Berenson has been living with her parents and baby. He also countered Galindo’s main argument, saying the way Berenson’s time served was calculated had been entirely legal and within the bounds of established jurisprudence.

A former Massachusetts Institute of Technology student, Berenson was arrested on a public bus in downtown Lima on November 30, 1995, along with the wife of a top MRTA leader. She was charged with helping plan a thwarted takeover of Peru’s Congress and sentenced to life by a secret military court for “treason against the fatherland.” But that conviction was vacated in 2000 and she was retried and convicted the following year by a civilian court.

Berenson and Panamanian painter Pacífico Castrellón — a key prosecution witness against her — rented the four- story house that the MRTA rebels used as their secret base to store a huge arsenal of weapons and house 20 guerrillas.

Justice Minister Victor Garcia Toma previously said he did not view Berenson as a threat to society. He recommended that the remaining five years of her sentence be commuted, which would allow her to return the United States with her baby.

But President Alan Garcia’s administration chose to wait through the appeals process.

But García decided Berenson’s case is “not a priority.” He told reporters on Monday that his government had been wise not to rush into commuting Berenson’s sentence until the appeals court determines whether her parole had been carried out correctly or that she must return to prison.

The court is expected to issue its ruling within 15 days.

Lori Berenson’s Full Statement to Court:

Thank you.  Mr. President, Madame Magistrates, Mr. Prosecutor. I have come today because I know that my liberty is at stake.

I have heard in the press, particularly from the state attorney, the issue that I am a danger to society. And although oratory is not exactly my strongpoint, I am going to try to explain why I believe that I am not (a danger).

In the first place, just to clarify an incident that the prosecutor has just mentioned.  I was sentenced for the crime of collaboration with terrorism, and I did collaborate with the MRTA.  I have never been a leader, nor a militant. I have never participated in acts of violence nor of bloodshed, nor have I killed anyone.

And what I would like to clarify here is that I know that my mere participation, even though it was secondary in one incident, if it contributed to the violence in society, I am deeply sorry and I regret it. If my coming to Peru has meant harm to the country, I am sorry and I regret it. If there are people who feel affected by my words or by my acts, I ask their forgiveness.  It is the only thing that I can say.

I was in prison for almost 15 years. I have reflected a great deal over it, and I understand that violence did harm to society; I understand it and I regret that I participated in it.

I believe that things, a better society, are achieved by building and not by destroying.  It is built by living together peacefully and that is what I have been doing. My behavior in prison has been very good; I can say there were no problems. In fact, in jail one learns better about coexisting than here outside.  But it is in jail, where the space is so very small, that you necessarily have to coexist with different ideas, with different everything.

As a result, one learns to reach a consensus and, in fact, it is something that serves very well to live in society.

Also, I have a different vision of life.  It has been almost 15 years. I am now a 40-year-old woman. I left home when I was young. But I have a family who have sacrificed everything for me, and I would like to pay them back somehow. And more than that, I have a child, a 15-month-old son and he is a child I would like to be close to, like any mother. I would like to bring up my son to be a good man.  That is now my objective.

And during the time I have been out of prison, I have shown that that is how I spend my time. I am working for that, I have a child I must bring up.

I need to live and that is what I am doing. I work. I am studying. I am trying to live like a normal person with my family, my parents, with my son, with the godmother of my child. That is what I am doing.

Therefore, I would like to suggest that, at least from my own point of view, I do not pose a danger to anyone.

I lament the repercussion that my release has had in society, although this has always been a very sensational case, from the time I was first detained. But the reality is that, although it hurts me, I do accept it. I take responsibility that there is a sense of rejection towards me. I understand. But according to the law, according to my behavior, I do not pose a threat to anyone.

I hope that the court will make its decision according to the law, and I trust it will be so.

Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak.

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5 Comments

  1. I am an American. I have many, many years throughout Latin America.

    After spending almost 8 years in Peru, from 1989, and various times, I was there during the most difficult times of the Sendero Luminoso and MRTA. I as there, working in the jungles of Peru when Lori Berenson was captured and detained. I witnessed her Anti Peruvian Sentiments. I have many friends that were killed by the MRTA, and they (MRTA) showed no mercy when they would sit PNP Officers on top of explosives and kill innocent officers that too had families, and trying to do the right thing. I was there when my boss was one of the detainees in the Japenese residence was taken by the MRTA. Lori Berenson owes a much greater debt to society, and should complete her sentence. She was not a mother for 15 months, and deprived how many children the rights to have a father, and in some cases a mother. I have no sympathy for her. She chose to support the MRTA, being fully aware of her convictions. Even years after her detention and conviction, she was very anti Peru and society. I remember very vividly the of Lore Berenson shouting her support for the MRTA…yes, she was much, much more than a nieve activist…she was an active participant, as many of the past photos have shown. Yes she should finish her term…as all she is doing is manipuliting the legal system. She committed the crime…willingly…by choice…otherwise why would she travel from New York to Lima???? How can you be an unwitting individual when you are college educated and travel 4,000 miles to support an insurrection to overthrow a government and hold people hostage? Lori Berenson is guilty, and should serve out the remainder of her time…she still has a debt to society and the many that died by the organization she supported…wittingly.

    • richard kadas says:

      Peru again has the world that it can be both just and merciful. It broke Ms. Berenson in body and spirit through 15 years of inhumaly harsh imprisonment. It made her both apologize and beg for mercy and for once justice. In the unfair trials it subjected her to it never according to the standards of western law was able to prove her guilty of anything except Guilt by Association. Even this minimal standard was reached only by subjecting the sole witness against her to torture. As a U.S. citizen I have come to believe anything derogatory said against Peru as proven fact. Again, a Peruvian prosecutor is only able to use innuendo in his case for revoking Ms. Berenson’s parole. Why does it seem to citizens of the U.S. that in Peru only might makes right? Peru will be judged in the court of international public opinion. If Ms. Berenson’s parole is revoke she will truly have become a political prisoner.

      • How much did her family pay you to write that? She admitted her complicity with terrorists. She knew they killed people and still sided with them.

  2. richard kadas says:

    Good for the criminal monster who run Peru. They can really be proud of themselves. They imprisoned a young, naive woman who made a tragic mistake. If she had realized the seriousness of the game she was playing, she would have left Peru before her capture. She never was given anything resembling a fair trial. The only testimony against her had been elicited through torture. Fifteen years of harsh imprisonment has broken her in body and spirit. She is not personally responsible for any act of violence. If Peru has a just court, they will reaffirm her parole. Kicking a small weak,totally crushed, and defenseless opponent when they are down is the behavior of a frightened nation of cowards. The whole world is watching!

  3. Mr. Kadas, Lori Berenson should have better stayed in the USA to fight for the minorities in danger. She should have used her “good” heart for the causes of her own country. It is a terrible offense for any peruvian, to listen to this woman, who came willingly to Peru to cause death and destruction. Peruvians still suffer daily because of people like Berenson. She does not represent a weak, small, totally crushed and defenseless opponent. NO. She represents a despicable foreigner who dared to cross borders to inflict MORE assasinations, terror and hatred to an already torn apart country. I´d like to know what will be of her if she, once set free, continues with her terrorist acts in the USA. Will you, oh mighty, be as mercifull as you are thousands of miles away?

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