News24

Peru terrorist arrives in US

2011-12-20 16:30

Newark - Paroled American Lori Berenson, who stirred international controversy when she was convicted of aiding Peruvian guerrillas, arrived in the US on Tuesday morning for her first visit home since Peruvian authorities arrested her in 1995.

Berenson's plane touched down at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey. She plans to spend the holidays with family in New York.

The 42-year-old and her 2-year-old son, Salvador Apari, boarded a flight at Lima's main airport under intense media scrutiny, as many in Peru wonder whether she will return to the country by the court-ordered deadline of January 11.

Berenson said while waiting for her flight that she intended to return to Peru. Berenson was accompanied by a US embassy employee.

"I just hope we don't get caught in a snow storm," she said, joking that such an occurrence in the US would delay her return.

Conviction

Berenson's departure capped three days of confusion after Peruvian authorities had prevented her from boarding a flight to New York on Friday despite a court approval allowing her to leave.

The authorities said Berenson, who had served 15 years on an accomplice to terrorism conviction before her parole in 2010, lacked an additional document.

Peruvian migration officials finally gave Berenson another document on Monday clearing her to leave the country with her son to spend the holidays with her family in New York City.

Her father, Mark Berenson, said on Monday that he was anxious to see her return.

"I'm just glad that they finally resolved the thing," he said.

Lori Berenson admitted helping the Tupac Amaru rebel group rent a safe house where authorities seized a cache of weapons after a shootout with the rebels. She insists she didn't know guns were stored there and says she never joined the group.

In 1996, a military court of hooded judges convicted Berenson of treason and sentenced her to life in prison. After US pressure, she was retried by a civilian court.

Bureaucracies

Lori Berenson and Salvador, accompanied by two officials who appeared to be from the US embassy, spent Monday morning at Peru's main migration office in downtown Lima and left shortly after 13:00 in a dark SUV with diplomatic plates.

"What she was given was an exit order," said the assistant to the office's director, Jose Luis Ubillus.

A spokesperson for the US embassy, Mary Drake, said consular officials were assisting Berenson "as they would to any citizen".

"I don't know why she threatened to file suit and complain when there was no persecution, but only the need to obtain an exit order," RPP radio quoted migration office director Edgard Reymundo as saying of Berenson.

It's not clear whether Berenson's delayed exit amounted to government harassment or whether she simply got caught between competing bureaucracies.

Political analyst Aldo Panfichi, a Catholic University professor, said he believed she was not the victim of a conspiracy.

"It is highly probable that this is a question of excess bureaucracy by midlevel functionaries or mis-coordination and lack of clarity between state agencies," he said.

Inequalities

The court ruled that Berenson was not a flight risk. Her father said that his daughter has every intention of returning to Peru.

By law, she must remain in Peru until her full sentence lapses unless President Ollanta Humala decides to commute it.

State anti-terrorism attorney Julio Galindo opposed Berenson's parole from the start, and succeeded last year in having her returned to prison on a technicality for over two months until a court ordered her freed in November.

Peru remains deeply scarred from its 1980 - 2000 conflict, which claimed some 70 000 lives.

Its gaping inequalities drew the young Berenson to Peru from El Salvador, where she had worked for the country's top rebel commander during negotiations that led to a 1992 peace accord.

Tupac Amaru was a lesser player in Peru's conflict and Berenson sought it out, she said in an interview last year, because it was similar to other revolutionary movements in Latin America.

The group never set off car bombs or engaged in the merciless slaughter of thousands as Shining Path rebels did, but it did engage in kidnappings and selective killings.

Model prisoner

In the 1980s, it was known for hijacking grocery trucks and distributing food to the poor.

The group most famously raided the Japanese embassy in Peru in 1996 during a party and held 72 hostages for more than four months. A government raid killed all the rebel hostage takers.

Berenson was arrested leaving Peru's Congress and accused of helping plan its armed takeover, which never happened.

She was initially unrepentant, but harsh prison life softened her. She was praised as a model prisoner in the report that supported her parole.

Some Peruvians still consider her a terrorist. She had been insulted in the street, and news media have repeatedly hounded and mobbed her.