Berenson clears hurdle to return to U.S. after Peru prison

Reuters News
Posted: Dec 19, 2011 4:03 PM
Berenson clears hurdle to return to U.S. after Peru prison

LIMA (Reuters) - Lori Berenson, a New Yorker who spent 15 years in Peruvian prisons for aiding Marxist insurgents in Peru, cleared a bureaucratic hurdle on Monday so she could take her first trip home since her 1995 arrest, officials said.

Berenson, 42, the mother of a 2-year-old boy, was paroled last year after serving 15 years of a 20-year sentence.

A judge on Friday gave Berenson permission to travel abroad but she was turned back at the Lima airport by migration officials because she did not have a document from the Interior Ministry authorizing her to travel as a parolee.

On Monday, assisted by two officials from the U.S. Embassy, she went to Peru's migration office and was given a document allowing her to travel. She declined to talk to reporters.

Anibal Apari, her lawyer and the father of her son, said he did not know when her flight would leave.

The judge said Berenson must return to Lima by January 11. Prosecutors criticized the ruling, saying there was little way to ensure sure she would return to Peru. Peru and the United States share an extradition treaty and are close allies.

Berenson's father, Mark, said on Friday she would go back to Peru because she did not want to break the law.

At the time of her release from prison, Peru's government resisted calls to commute the rest of her sentence so she could relocate permanently to the United States.

Berenson was a student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before becoming involved in social justice issues in Latin America. She was pulled off a bus in Lima 16 years ago and charged with belonging to the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA, an urban guerrilla group.

The MRTA was active in the 1980s and 1990s when a larger insurgency, the Maoist Shining Path, also tried to topple the state.

While in jail, she became known as an accomplished baker, participated in talent shows of inmates and had a child with Apari, a former member of the MRTA.

She told Reuters last year that life outside prison was "much harder than I thought."

Her neighbors in Lima shouted insults at her after her release in a country where people still are traumatized by memories of a long civil war that killed 69,000 people.

Berenson was never convicted of participating in violent acts but was found guilty of providing support to the MRTA. She says she was imprisoned for renting a house where MRTA members stayed.

"It would be nice if people didn't see me as the face of terrorism, but I can't change that. I live with it. It's not easy, especially because I don't think that I'm a terrorist," she said at the time.

A military tribunal initially sentenced her to life in prison using counterterrorism laws. She was retried in a civilian court and her sentence was reduced after pressure from her parents, human rights groups and the U.S. government.

(Reporting by Enrique Mandujano and Terry Wade; Editing by Bill Trott)