American woman apologizes for collaborating with Peruvian Marxist rebel group

Andean Air Mail & Peruvian Times -- 16 August 2010

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.

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 Tomapreviously 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.