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Lori Berenson

Lori Helene Berenson
Born (1969-11-13) November 13, 1969
New York, NY, U.S.
Occupation Translator, secretary
Criminal charge Collaboration with a terrorist organization
Criminal penalty 20 years imprisonment
Spouse(s) Aníbal Augusto Apari Sánchez
Children Salvador
Parent(s) Rhoda Kobeloff Berenson and Mark Berenson

Lori Helene Berenson (born November 13, 1969) is an American convicted in Peru in 1996 of unlawful collaboration with the [1][2][3][4] Her arrest and conviction, and the circumstances of her trials, provoked considerable attention in the United States and in Peru.

After securing press credentials for herself and a photographer, visiting Peru's Congress to interview some of its members and attend sessions where she took notes and sketched a seating plan, Berenson was arrested on a public bus[5] along with the photographer. Her photographer turned out to be the wife of a top MRTA leader, a fact Berenson stated she was unaware of at that time. The MRTA is alleged to have intended to use the information to seize lawmakers and exchange the hostages for imprisoned MRTA members. The house she rented in Lima was found to contain an arsenal of weapons and ammunition, together with armed guerrillas who violently resisted capture. She denied knowing of the presence of the weaponry or guerillas, or that the documents she prepared would be used for terrorism. In 2011 she admitted that she had known her associates were MRTA members and said: “It might not have been intentional, but the bottom line is: I did collaborate with them." In the same interview she maintained that she had not been aware that weapons were being amassed in the upper floors of her house which she had sublet to the MRTA members, or that violent actions were being planned at the Congress, stating that “at that time in Fujimori’s dictatorship, Congress was the only place that there was some sort of democratic process.”[6]

Shortly after arrest, she made an angry statement, alleging that the MRTA was not a terrorist group, but was a revolutionary movement—a statement which caused great animosity towards her by many Peruvians.[7]

After she was tried in 1996 by a military tribunal with a hooded judge and sentenced to life imprisonment, Berenson became "a cause celebre for human rights campaigners and a symbol for leftwing social activists around the world."[8] Although publicly known judges had previously been killed in Peru by the MRTA, other elements of her trial were considered to be violations of human rights and to lack in impartiality, provoking controversy in the United States and other countries. In particular, she was allegedly denied the right to examine the government's evidence and witnesses.[9] She was convicted of treason and sentenced to life without parole. In 2000, following a change of government in Peru, her conviction was overturned and she received a new trial. She was found guilty of collaboration with terrorism and sentenced to 20 years of prison. She served 15 years, and was granted conditional release in May 2010. In August 2010 an appeals court ordered that Berenson be arrested and made to serve out the remainder of her sentence. On November 5, 2010, a Peruvian judge ordered she be released from prison. She is currently on parole and must remain in Peru until her sentence ends in 2015.


  • Early life and education 1
  • Activities in Peru and arrest 2
  • Trials 3
  • Efforts to free Berenson 4
  • Imprisonment 5
  • Release and reimprisonment 6
  • References 7
  • External links 8

Early life and education

Berenson was born and raised in Salvador Sánchez Cerén) is currently the President of El Salvador.

After political reconciliation came to El Salvador, Berenson moved to Peru. During her travels and political activities, she claims she was supported by a trust fund established for her by her parents.

Activities in Peru and arrest

In Peru, Berenson met members of the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), a group that had committed numerous terrorist attacks in Peru including kidnapping, bank robberies, extortion, hostage taking, and assassinations. Berenson, however, denies knowing that they were MRTA members.

Berenson co-rented a large house in Lima in an upscale neighborhood. Much of the house was later used as a safe house by MRTA operatives, with up to 15 of them occupying their part of the residence.[7] Berenson later claimed to be unaware of the connection and to have moved out some months prior to her arrest.[7]

Berenson obtained press credentials for herself and her photographer to the Congress of Peru, papers which were later reported by the media to be "false journalist credentials"[17] However her support website states that "After half a decade of hands-on experience ... Lori was able to obtain assignments from two U.S. publications, Modern Times and Third World Viewpoint, to work as a free-lance journalist. She secured appropriate press credentials in Lima. At the time of her arrest she was researching articles about the effects of poverty on women in Perú. Her parents are in possession of some of the transcripts of her work, but the Peruvian anti-terrorist police took most of it when her apartment was searched."[18] Her photographer, Nancy Gilvonio, was actually the wife of Néstor Cerpa, the MRTA second-in-command — although Berenson claims she was unaware of this connection and claimed that she knew her only as a Bolivian photographer. Berenson had entered the main Congress building with Gilvonio several times during 1995 to interview members of Congress. Gilvonio was alleged to have provided the information she collected to the MRTA including detailed information on the floor plans of Congress, its security and members. The plan was for the MRTA to invade the Congress building, kidnap the legislators, and exchange the hostages for MRTA prisoners.

On November 30, 1995, Berenson and Gilvonio were arrested on a public bus in downtown Lima. Berenson was accused of being a leader of the MRTA, which had been officially classified as a terrorist group by the government.

Within hours the government launched an all-night siege of the MRTA safe house previously rented by Berenson during which three MRTA guerrillas and one police officer died and 14 guerrillas were captured. The safe house was found to contain an "arsenal of weapons",[16] including 3,000 sticks of dynamite.[7] Diagrams, notes, weapons, and police and military uniforms found at the safe house suggested that the group was planning to seize members of Congress and trade them for captured guerrillas. Police also seized a floor plan and a scale architectural model of the Congress building from the safe house. After being taken to the house siege, in which Berenson claims she was used as a human shield by the Peruvian police, both women were taken to the DINCOTE (División Nacional Contra el Terrorismo, or National Counter Terrorist Division).

On January 8, 1996, the DINCOTE hosted a news event in which they showed Berenson to the press. At the event, she shouted, her fists clenched to her sides, "There are no criminal terrorists in the MRTA.; it's a revolutionary movement!"[7] That image continues to make her unpopular in Peru.[7] Her supporters later claimed that her vehement defense of MRTA came about because she was angry over the treatment of a wounded cell mate and that she was instructed by authorities to shout in order to be heard.


In accordance with [23]

In 2000, after years of political pressure from the United States and the human rights community, Peru’s Supreme Military Council overturned Berenson’s treason conviction and life sentence and remanded her case to the civilian court for retrial. On June 20, 2001, a three-judge panel convicted Berenson of collaboration with terrorists, but ruled she was not a terrorist. She was sentenced to 20 years, with consideration given for time already served under her prior conviction.[24]

In 2002, the

  • The Committee to Free Lori Berenson

External links

  1. ^ Baer, Suzie (2003). Peru's MRTA, Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement. The Rosen Publishing Group, Inc. p. 52. Retrieved October 17, 2012. in 2001, [MRTA] was removed from the U.S. State Department's list of foreign terrorist organizations 
  2. ^ Peru 2010 Crime & Safety Report
  3. ^ Mrta: What Does It Mean Today?, leaked diplomatic cable from U.S. Embassy in Peru on Friday May 30, 2008
  4. ^ Erlanger, Steven (October 9, 1997), "U.S. Labels 30 Groups As Terrorists; Omits I.R.A.", The New York Times 
  5. ^ a b Guilt, repentance and innocence: Lori Berenson and her baby might be going back to prison Archived July 23, 2010 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Egan, Jennifer (March 2, 2011). "The Liberation of Lori Berenson". The New York Times. Retrieved January 14, 2012. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f Krauss, Richard (June 21, 2001). "20-year sentence for New Yorker after 2nd terrorism trial in Peru". The New York Times. Retrieved January 14, 2012. 
  8. ^ Carroll, Rory (June 10, 2010). "Freed New Yorker who aided Peru rebels wants deportation". The Guardian (London). 
  9. ^ Harris, Paul (May 27, 2010). "New Yorker convicted of helping Marxists in Peru released after 15 years". The Guardian (London). 
  10. ^ Barnard, Anne (December 20, 2011). "American Jailed in Peru Returns to New York". The New York Times. 
  11. ^ Egan, Jennifer (March 2, 2011). "Lori Berenson, Life After Peruvian Prison". The New York Times. 
  12. ^
  13. ^ Egan, Jennifer (March 2, 2011). "Lori Berenson, Life After Peruvian Prison". The New York Times. 
  14. ^
  15. ^
  16. ^ a b Hayes, Monte (October 29, 2000). "Well-meaning activist or terrorist?".  
  17. ^ "Peru court revokes parole for US 'rebel' Lori Berenson". BBC News. August 18, 2010. Retrieved December 17, 2011. 
  18. ^ "FAQ: What was Lori doing in Perú?". Committee to Free Lori Berenson. Retrieved December 17, 2011. 
  19. ^ Ewig, Christina. "The Fujimori Legacy – The Rise of Electoral Authoritarianism in Peru". Penn State University Press. Retrieved December 17, 2011. 
  20. ^ Phantom Menace, Harvard International Review
  21. ^ Caron, Cathleen (1998). "Judiciary Firmly Under Control in Fujimori's Peru". Human Rights Brief (American University College of Law) 6 (1). Retrieved December 17, 2011. 
  22. ^ Carroll, Rory (June 10, 2010). "Freed New Yorker who aided Peru rebels wants deportation". London: The Guardian. Retrieved December 17, 2011. 
  23. ^ a b "Carter Center Activities By Country: Peru". The Carter Center. Retrieved December 17, 2011. 
  24. ^ [Krauss, Clifford. Week in Review – Berenson Reconvicted, The New York Times, June 24, 2001]
  25. ^ Dispute Rises in Peru’s Handling of Lori Berenson’s Terror Trial, The New York Times, July 18, 2002
  26. ^ a b "Caso Lori Berenson Mejía Vs. Perú" (PDF).  
  27. ^ a b "Case of Lori Berenson-Mejía v. Peru".  
  28. ^ Forero, Juan (December 3, 2004). "Americas: Peru: Conviction Of New Yorker Upheld". The New York Times. Retrieved August 23, 2009. 
  29. ^ "Enhancing Freedom Through Human Rights" (PDF).  
  30. ^ "Clinton Urges Peru in Berenson Case".  
  31. ^ "Bush Cites Case of U.S. Woman in Peru Meeting".  
  32. ^ "Amnesty International Declares Lori a Political Prisoner". Committee to Free Lori Berenson. April 28, 1998. 
  33. ^ a b Harman, Danna (December 27, 2005). "Berenson: from terrorist to baker".  
  34. ^ H.Amdt. 330 to the original H.R. 2415. First session, 106th United States Congress.
  35. ^ "The Epiphany of the Lord". The Peace Pulpit. National Catholic Reporter. January 6, 2002. Retrieved December 17, 2011. 
  36. ^ Nottingham, William J. (October 25, 2004). "Her Solidarity is with the Poor. Lori Berenson's Story". Counterpunch. Retrieved December 17, 2011. 
  37. ^ "Jailed in Peru".  
  38. ^ "Free Lori Berenson".  
  39. ^ Sims, Calvin (December 9, 1996). "In Peru, U.S. Woman's Parents Lament Prison Conditions". The New York Times. Retrieved December 17, 2011. 
  40. ^ Berenson, Lori (February 18, 2002). "Lori Berenson's statement on beginning a hunger strike". Committee to Free Lori Berenson. 
  41. ^ "Declaran inconstitucionales diversos artículos de los Decretos Leyes Nºs. 25475, 25659, 25708, 25880 y 25744" (PDF). Teleley (in Español). 2003. 
  42. ^ Patriau, Enrique (May 18, 2008). "MRTA Adiós a las armas". (in Español).  
  43. ^ "Writings of Lori Berenson". Committee to Free Lori Berenson. 
  44. ^ Berenson, Lori (February 1, 2006). """Defending Our "Way of Life.  
  45. ^ "10 Years After the Arrest of U.S. Citizen Lori Berenson in Peru, her Father Mark Berenson Reads a Statement She Released from Prison".  
  46. ^ Whalen, Andrew (September 16, 2008). "Father of Lori Berenson says she is pregnant".  
  47. ^ "Jailed U.S. citizen Lori Berenson gives birth to baby boy". Peruvian Times. May 7, 2009. Retrieved December 17, 2011. 
  48. ^ "Peru Justice Ministry recommends Berenson be expelled". Peruvian Times. May 31, 2010. Retrieved December 17, 2011. 
  49. ^ Romero, Simon (May 25, 2010). "Peru Frees American Held Since 1995". Peru: The New York Times. Retrieved December 17, 2011. 
  50. ^ Romero, Simon (May 26, 2010). "For Peru and American Inmate, Much Is Changed". Peru: The New York Times. Retrieved December 17, 2011. 
  51. ^ "Peru Frees US 'Rebel' Lori Berenson After 15 Years". BBC. May 25, 2010. 
  52. ^ a b c d e Rick Vecchio (May 27, 2010). "NY woman who aided Peru rebels free after 15 years". AP via Washington Post. 
  53. ^ Helen Poppers (May 31, 2010). "Freed U.S. citizen Berenson seeks to leave Peru". Reuters. 
  54. ^ "Bill Clinton supports President Garcia's proposal for fewer arms purchases in region". Peruvian Times. June 8, 2010. Retrieved December 17, 2011. 
  55. ^ Google Cache of Peruviantimes story
  56. ^ "American woman apologizes for collaborating with Peruvian Marxist rebel group". August 16, 2010. Retrieved December 17, 2011. 
  57. ^ Kozak, Robert. Court Orders Berenson Back to Prison in Peru, Wall Street Journal, August 19, 2010
  58. ^ Philly.Com
  59. ^ Peruvian Court: No More Prison For Lori Berenson, Associated Press, January 24, 2011.
  60. ^ Zarate & Harris, Andrea & Elizabeth A. (December 17, 2011). "American Who Was Jailed in Peru Is Blocked at Airport".  
  61. ^ a b Barnard, Anne (December 20, 2011). "American Jailed in Peru Returns to New York".  
  62. ^ Neuman, William (January 6, 2012). "Peru: American Lori Berenson Returns for Parole". The New York Times. 


In December 2011, a Peruvian court issued Berenson a three-week travel permit to visit her family in New York City. Authorities at the airport initially blocked her leaving, prompting fresh calls from her lawyer for Peruvian authorities to respect the decision of the Peruvian judiciary.[60] She finally arrived on December 20.[61] After spending Christmas and New Year's Day visiting her parents in New York, she returned to Lima, Peru on January 6, 2012.[62] She remains on parole, still serving her 20-year sentence, which is due to be completed on November 29, 2015, whereupon she will be permitted to leave Peru permanently.[61]

Constitutional law expert Mario Amoretti, while agreeing that the ruling should be final, remarked that the state conceivably could file a challenge, claiming some constitutional violation, but he said he didn't see grounds for such an appeal. Berenson must remain in Peru on supervised parole until her 20-year sentence ends in 2015, unless the sentence is commuted by the President. When he was President, Alan Garcia said he would consider a commutation only after the legal case had run its course.[59]

In January 2011, an appeals court rejected a prosecutor's attempt to revoke her parole. Berenson and her attorney told reporters that the ruling is final and cannot be appealed by prosecutors, ending eight months of legal uncertainty.

On November 8, 2010, Berenson was again released on parole.[58]

On August 18, 2010, the appeals court annulled Berenson's parole and returned her to prison while technical aspects of the parole were considered.[57]

"... I was sentenced for the crime of collaboration with terrorism, and I did collaborate with the MRTA. I have never been a leader, nor a militant. I have never participated in acts of violence nor of bloodshed, nor have I killed anyone. And what I would like to clarify here is that I know that my mere participation, even though it was secondary in one incident, if it contributed to the violence in society, I am deeply sorry and I regret it ... I was in prison for almost 15 years. I have reflected a great deal over it, and I understand that violence did harm to society; I understand it and I regret that I participated in it. I believe that things, a better society, are achieved by building and not by destroying ... "Also, I have a different vision of life. It has been almost 15 years. I am now a 40-year-old woman. I left home when I was young. But I have a family who have sacrificed everything for me, and I would like to pay them back somehow. And more than that, I have a child, a 15-month-old son and he is a child I would like to be close to, like any mother. I would like to bring up my son to be a good man. That is now my objective." [56] "

Peru’s state attorney for counter-terrorism, Julio Galindo, appealed Berenson's parole, depicting her as a calculating, unrepentant extremist who posed a continuing threat to the Peruvian public. On August 16, 2010, Berenson appeared before the appeals court to request she be allowed to remain free on parole. In responding to Galindo's allegations, she stated that she was not a threat to society:

On June 8, 2010, former U.S. president Bill Clinton, speaking while on a visit to Peru, expressed his support for Berenson's release,[54][55] stating "I'm glad Lori Berenson was released ... when I was president, I worked for that."

With protesters gathering daily outside her Lima apartment building, lighting candles and demanding that she be deported from Peru, or reimprisoned, Berenson sent a letter to President Alan Garcia admitting her "criminal responsibility for terrorist collaboration" and further writing “I would also like to say that I very much regret the harm I have caused Peruvian society, and I ask forgiveness from people who have been affected by my actions or words.” [5] She then requested that her sentence be commuted so she can return to the United States.[53]

On May 25, 2010, after serving 15 years, Berenson was granted a conditional release, with the judge stating that she would have to remain in Peru on parole for the remaining five years of her sentence, but would be freed from prison.[49][50][51] Berenson's attorneys submitted documents to the court indicating that she "recognized she committed errors" by associating herself with the MRTA.[52] She was freed two days later, a release which attracted a media circus.[52] She was driven to an apartment in the upscale Miraflores area of Lima, where her new neighbors welcomed her by shouting "terrorist" at her.[52] Berenson's parents indicated that she will separate from Apari and raise her son, Salvador as a single mother.[52] Peru's Minister of Justice, Victor Garcia, stated that the Cabinet might commute Berenson's sentence and expel her from the country.[52]

Peru's Justice Minister Victor Garcia Toma on May 3, 2010, stated that "I don't think Lori Berenson can create harm for society, but she has created anger among citizens," and recommended that the remaining five years of her sentence be commuted and that she be expelled from Peru to the U.S., indicating that his recommendation was based on a legal and political analysis of the circumstances.[48]

Release and reimprisonment

On September 16, 2008, her father announced that she was pregnant with her first child.[46] In January 2009, Berenson was transferred to a prison in Lima due to a serious back problem which complicated her pregnancy. In May 2009, she gave birth to a boy, whom she named Salvador,[47] and who lived with her while she was in prison. In Peru, children are allowed to remain with their incarcerated mothers until age 3.

Periodically, through her website page[43] entitled "Lori's Words," Berenson issues advice to youth as well as criticism of the policies of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, the war in Iraq, the "American Way of Life," the Peruvian "political class," and alleged maltreatment and torture of prisoners. Berenson's commentaries on capitalism, globalism, and alleged environmental destruction caused by mining companies have also appeared on the Internet.[44][45] In addition, her commentaries have been read on the Prison Radio Project, a San Francisco-based radio and activist project that produces the commentaries of several political prisoners.

From 2003 through 2008 Berenson worked in and co-managed the bakery at Huacariz Prison which served the inmate population and the Cajamarca community.[33]

In October 2003, Berenson married Aníbal Apari Sánchez, 40, whom she had met in 1997 when they were both incarcerated at Yanamayo prison. Apari Sánchez was convicted of being a member of the MRTA. When released in 2003 on conditional liberty (parole) in Lima, his travel was restricted. Due to this, he was not present at the wedding in Cajamarca and had to be represented by his father. Later, her husband was allowed conjugal visits. Apari Sánchez is now a practicing attorney in Lima and directs a non-governmental organization (NGO) that assists individuals formerly imprisoned on charges of assisting or being members of the MRTA in their rehabilitation into society. He is also co-founder of a political party, Patria Libre, that intends to participate in the 2011 national elections.[42]

In February 2002, Berenson took part in a 25-day hunger strike of "political prisoners" in an attempt to influence the government of Peru to improve prison conditions and revise its anti-terrorism laws.[40] The strike ended without reaching its goals. Less than a year later, Peru revised many of those laws.[41]

On October 7, 1998, Berenson was moved to another prison in Socabaya. She remained there until August 31, 2000, when she was transferred to the women's prison of Chorrillos in Lima. Then, on December 21, 2001, she was relocated to the maximum-security Huacariz Penitentiary in Cajamarca, 560 kilometres (350 mi) north of Lima.

Berenson spent her early years in prison at facilities high in the Andes, the first of which the Inter-American Court ruled is operated inhumanely.[26][27][39] The Yanamayo prison where Berenson was initially held for about three years lies at 3,650 metres (11,980 ft) above sea level near Lake Titicaca in the Puno Region, in southern Peru.


Columns were written for American newspapers, such as The Washington Post and The New York Times, calling on the US to pressure Peru to free Berenson.[37][38] Other writers, however, took the contrary position, including the Wall Street Journal online edition. Her parents had a short independent film made in protest against her earlier military trial, and her story was reported on several top television news shows. Her parents continued to work for her release and their website provided regular updates on Berenson's situation.

In January 2002 Thomas Gumbleton, Bishop of Archdiocese of Detroit and founder of Pax Christi USA, visited with Lori to work with Peruvian government officials "for her release."[35] Berenson was visited by other religious leaders, including William Nottingham, President Emeritus of Overseas Ministries for Disciples of Christ, who after meeting with Lori stated that "She has maintained her innocence in the face of many inducements. She neither condones nor justifies violence of any kind" and that her "involvements in Latin America were motivated by her concern for social justice and her understanding of the oppression of the poor. Her humanitarian and political sympathies made her the target of an oppressive right-wing government."[36]

On July 21, 1999, the United States House of Representatives voted against an amendment sponsored by US Rep. Maxine Waters described as "to express the sense of Congress concerning support for democracy in Peru and the release of Lori Berenson". The vote failed 189 to 234.[34]

In December 1996, the MRTA seized the Japanese Ambassador's residence in Lima and demanded that MRTA prisoners be released in exchange for the release of their hostages. MRTA leader Nestor Cerpa, Nancy Gilvonio's husband, led the takeover of the Embassy. Berenson was third on a list of MRTA prisoners whose release was sought by the hostage-takers. After 126 days, the standoff ended in a raid by Peruvian special forces in which all hostage-takers were killed. Two military personnel, commander EP Juan Valer Sandoval and captain EP Raúl Jiménez Chávez, and one of the seventy-two hostages, Carlos Giusti were also killed.[33]

According to her release website, in 1998, Amnesty International issued a press release declaring Berenson to be a political prisoner[32] Amnesty criticized the Peruvian anti-terrorism legislation, stating that, "it is unacceptable for hundreds of political prisoners like Berenson not to be able to exercise their basic human right to a fair and public hearing by an independent and impartial tribunal."

Over the years, there were several efforts made on behalf of Berenson, stemming from concerns she did not obtain a fair trial or was not receiving humanitarian treatment, or simply to obtain her release. Various endeavors have come from Presidents Jimmy Carter, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush.[29][30][31]

Efforts to free Berenson

On November 25, 2004, the Inter-American Court upheld the conviction and sentence. The Court did condemn the judicial system under which Berenson was originally tried, and also condemned Berenson's earlier incarceration at Yanamayo Prison.[26][27] Peruvian President Alejandro Toledo hailed the verdict, and The New York Times noted that few Peruvians have any sympathy for Berenson.[28]


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