Berenson hopes to avoid return to Peruvian prison

By Terry Wade and Patricia Velez

LIMA (BestGrowthStock) – Lori Berenson, a U.S. citizen who served 15 years in prison for aiding Marxist insurgents in Peru, says she no longer condones violence and worries that political forces will force her to return to prison again.

In a rare interview on Tuesday, a day after she left prison on parole for a second time, Berenson said that adjusting to life on the outside has been tough.

“It’s much harder than I thought, harder for many reasons. I think mostly because of the situation behind the case; there was a lot of politics involved,” she said.

Her case has generated a storm of controversy in Peru, where people are still traumatized by memories of a long civil war that killed 69,000 people.

Berenson, who turns 41 this week, was convicted of collaborating with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). The MRTA was active in the 1980s and 1990s when a larger insurgency, the Maoist Shining Path, also tried to topple the state.

“I understand there are a lot of people that despise me, who would like to see me dead probably. It’s not easy to deal with that situation, but I understand it,” she said.

“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.”

Berenson was never convicted of participating in violent acts, but said she was sent to jail essentially for renting a house where MRTA members stayed.

She studied at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology before becoming involved in social justice issues in Latin America. She was arrested on a bus in Peru in 1995. At the time, authorities said she was helping plot the takeover of Peru’s Congress.

Berenson, who is thin and wears her brown hair pulled back in a braid, said she no longer condones violence.

“You can’t support it in any way,” she said. “I think it’s better to listen if people say we want peace and just let there be peace and not even think of (violence) as an option, and that was not how I thought maybe 15 years ago.”

UNCERTAIN PAROLE

Berenson was granted parole for a second time last week and left prison on Monday to spend the five year term in Lima, although government lawyers are appealing the ruling.

“They want me to go back right away to prison,” where she said she suffered for years. The justice minister has denounced the latest parole ruling as illegal.

“My main hope is that I continue to be on parole; that to me is the only thing that is concerning me right now,” she said.

Berenson first left jail in May but was sent back in August when a previous parole ruling was overturned on a legal technicality.

She said returning to her native New York would be wonderful, but doubts the Peruvian government would commute her parole.

“That would be much easier. Basically my parents are older. I think they would like to be closer to their grandson,” she said of the boy to whom she gave birth while in prison.

(Additional reporting by Enrique Mandujano and Carlos Valdez)

Berenson hopes to avoid return to Peruvian prison