Lori Berenson Seeks Expulsion from Peru

Sunday, May 30, 2010  |  Updated 1:33 PM EDT
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Lori Berenson Seeks Expulsion from Peru

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Lori Berenson, smiles after leaving prison on parole next to her husband and attorney Anibal Apari, in Lima on Thursday.

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A 40-year-old New York woman paroled in Peru last week after serving 15 years in prison for aiding rebels is asking the president to commute her sentence so she can be deported.

Justice Minister Victor Garcia tells The Associated Press that Lori Berenson wrote President Alan Garcia with the request.

He said Sunday that Berenson also apologized to the people of Peru.

Cabinet officials are to meet Wednesday to discuss whether to commute Berenson's sentence. Terms of her parole call for Berenson to remain in Peru through 2015.

If Berenson wants to take her 1-year-old son with her, she will need to get permission from the boy's father, a former rebel from whom she is legally separating.

Neither Berenson nor her husband could be reached for comment Sunday.

Now 40, the New Yorker spent more than a third of her life behind bars — getting married, giving birth, undergoing back surgery — but never denouncing the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement she was convicted of abetting.

When she was arrested in November 1995 with the wife of the group's leader, prosecutors said Berenson was helping it plot a takeover of Peru's Congress that never happened. The following month, police found a forged ID card bearing her photo in a raid on a rebel safe house.

But Berenson apparently became less strident over the years, many of them spent in frigid prisons in the high Andes. Documents her defense team provided to the judge who granted her parole said Berenson had "recognized she committed errors" getting involved with the rebels.

A year after Berenson's arrest, the Tupac Amaru gained notoriety when 13 of its members stormed the Japanese ambassador's residents and seized hostages. Among their demands was Berenson's release. The standoff ended 126 days later with all the rebels killed.

Berenson's release Thursday from Santa Monica women's prison was a tempest in itself. She squeezed through a horde of reporters into a car driven by her husband and attorney, Anibal Apari, to be driven to the Lima apartment where she is to reside.

Two Peruvian reporters jumped into the car, which had a minor collision a block away with a TV channel's vehicle.

Their couple's son, Salvador, who has been living with his mother since his birth a year ago, was taken to the apartment separately by Berenson's parents, who flew in from New York City on Wednesday.

The judge who granted Berenson parole said she must stay in Lima until her sentence ends in November 2015. But Peru's justice minister, Victor Garcia, told the Radioprogramas network Thursday that the Cabinet could decide to commute the sentence and expel Berenson.

"This is a really nasty situation for Peruvians," Garcia said, suggesting the government was not necessarily pleased Berenson had been paroled. President Alan Garcia said Tuesday that it was not his place to comment on whether he considered the judge's decision appropriate.

It was unclear whether any other legal problems could complicate Berenson's eventual return to the United States. U.S. Embassy spokesman James Fennell said he could not comment on the case due to privacy laws.

Many Peruvians were unhappy with Berenson's release.

"Go away, terrorist!" shouted 42-year-old Carol Philips as Berenson and Apari pushed their way through a throng of journalists to get into the apartment building in the upscale Miraflores neighborhood where Berenson is to live.

Her parents told The Associated Press they came not just for the joy of their daughter's release but also to help childproof the apartment.

"I don't know whose idea it was to put this terrorist here as a neighbor," said another neighbor, Rene Vela.

Berenson's parents said their daughter and Apari would be legally separating and Lori would raise Salvador as a single mother.

Their daughter dropped out of the Massachussetts Institute of Technology in 1989 to pursue a passion for social justice.

After a time in Central America — she worked as private secretary to El Salvador's top rebel commander during peace negotiations there — she traveled to Peru in 1994.

Berenson named her son after that commander, Salvador Sanchez Ceren, who is now his country's vice president.

After her arrest, Berenson was initially accused of being a leader of the MRTA, which bombed banks and kidnapped and killed civilians but was nowhere near as violent as the better-known Shining Path insurgency.

Berenson was convicted of treason by a military court in 1996. But after an intense campaign by her college professor parents she was retried in a civilian court in 2000. It convicted Berenson of the lesser crime and reduced her sentence to 20 years.

The U.S. State Department had pushed hard for the civilian trial, saying Berenson was denied due process by the military tribunal. Her case soured relations between the administration of U.S. President Bill Clinton and that of former Peruvian strongman Alberto Fujimori.

Fujimori stepped down in disgrace in 2000 before Berenson's retrial, and is now an inmate in state custody on convictions for crimes including murder, kidnapping and corruption.

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