- The Washington Times - Friday, April 13, 2001

LIMA, Peru Lori Berenson, 31, sat with her hands clasped in her lap in a prison courtroom, just 30 feet from her parents, facing an increasingly angry judge at her second trial for terrorism against Peru.

She has already spent six years in jail two of them at 12,000 feet in the Andes without heat and could spend another 30 years behind bars on charges she was part of the bloody guerrilla movement Tupac Amaru.

On Wednesday, the ninth day of her trial, her defense seemed to be shaken when a convicted guerrilla testified that she had lied when she said she paid rent on the house where she was living in 1995 when police captured 14 armed guerrillas living there.

The court has grown increasingly angry with Miss Berenson, who earlier this week objected that she was being persecuted for her political beliefs.

But the former anthropology student, who says she was fighting injustice but was never a terrorist, has begun to win some support among Peruvians.

"Lori is a sensitive person who feels the injustice in the world," said taxi driver Ercilio, 40, who asked that his last name not be published.

"If she joined the MRTA (Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement) it was heroic. She does not distinguish between color and wanted social equality."

But a Peruvian hotel clerk said it was only because of U.S. pressure that Miss Berenson is getting a new trial.

"I remember when the guerrillas were planting bombs. One went off right there five years ago," she said, pointing at the hotel door, 20 feet away. "It killed three people."

Amnesty International reports that the Tupac Amaru was responsible for 262 of the 26,149 political killings committed from 1980 to 1992, about 1 percent. The larger Shining Path movement was responsible for 11,767 deaths and the Peruvian government itself for 13,859 deaths, Amnesty says.

Peru was so traumatized by bombs, electricity blackouts and assassinations that it tacitly approved measures by former President Alberto Fujimori, including the secret military court that convicted Miss Berenson without granting her access to a lawyer.

But the guerrilla movements died down after the capture or killing of their leaders, and Mr. Fujimori fled to Japan in November amid charges of corruption and abuse of power. Now Peruvians have begun to question her conviction.

"Lori is worried because the terrorism laws are very tough," said her lawyer, Jose Sandoval, in an interview this week.

He accused the convicted guerrilla Pacifico Castrelion of lying on the witness stand Tuesday and Wednesday when he disputed several points in Miss Berenson's testimony.

However, neither Castrelion nor the prosecutor has ever accused Miss Berenson of taking part in any violence, handling weapons or any direct involvement in terrorism.

She had rented the house where rebels were living after dropping out of MIT, where she had been studying anthropology. Earlier, she had served for a time as secretary to the leader of leftist guerrillas in El Salvador during peace talks that ended the war there.

In 1996, a secret military tribunal sentenced her to life in prison for helping the MRTA to plan a thwarted takeover of Congress.

Miss Berenson, who had secured journalist credentials though she never published an article, visited the Congress with the wife of the MRTA chief posing as a photographer on the day of her arrest. Prosecutors said it was to scout out the place for an attack.

"I never went to Congress to carry out the aims of the MRTA," she testified this week.

Her parents, retired New York City college professors Rhoda and Mark Berenson, led a long struggle to win support from U.S. congressmen, the U.S. government and international human rights groups for a new trial.

"We've been here 45 times," Mrs. Berenson said in an interview at the apartment the couple rented for the duration of the new trial.

She said that her daughter could have gone free if she had agreed to confess to being a terrorist, repent and denounce others.

"Lori has very strong principles," Mrs. Berenson said. "She does not believe in giving up her principles for a little bit of comfort.

"She says she won't say sorry for something she didn't do."

Mrs. Berenson said that when her daughter was captured, Mr. Fujimori hailed the arrest of a North American woman as a political victory. She said that proves her daughter's trial was unfair.

Efforts by the Berensons resulted in more than half the members of Congress signing letters asking President Clinton to seek their daughter's release. Mr. Clinton, as well as Secretary of State Colin Powell and Bush National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice, all have written to Peru's leaders expressing concern at her treatment.

Sign up for Daily Newsletters

Copyright © 2019 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times welcomes your comments on Spot.im, our third-party provider. Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide