Lori Berenson apologizes to Peru for aiding rebels, asks government to commute sentence to US

By Carla Salazar, AP
Thursday, June 17, 2010

Lori Berenson apologizes to Peru for Tupac actions

LIMA, Peru — Paroled New York activist Lori Berenson apologized to Peru for her “crime of collaboration with terrorism” in a letter obtained Thursday by The Associated Press.

Berenson, 40, had long declared herself a political prisoner, though she did acknowledge “committing errors” in papers submitted by her defense team that enabled her May 27 parole.

In the two-page handwritten letter to Peru’s pardons commission, dated the day of her release, Berenson asks a government panel to commute her 20-year sentence for aiding the leftist rebel Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA.

She wrote that she wants to go home to the United States to be reunited with her entire family, and that both she and her 1-year-old son, Salvador, require medical treatment and possibly hospitalization. She does not elaborate although her father, Mark Berenson, has said in the past that she suffers from a degenerative back ailment.

“Lori feels that her health and that of her baby are personal and wishes for them to remain private,” Mark Berenson wrote in an e-mail responding to a question from the AP.

Under terms of her parole, Berenson must remain in Peru until the sentence ends in November 2015 — unless President Alan Garcia decides to commute the sentence.

“I am still analyzing and reflecting,” Garcia told reporters Thursday. “People must pay for the crimes they commit.”

Garcia said earlier this month that he would take his time making the decision. Berenson subsequently told The Associated Press that she expected him to take several months.

“I assume my penal responsibility for the crime of terrorist collaboration,” Berenson wrote in the letter. “At the same time, I would like to express that I regret greatly the harm that I may have caused Peruvian society and I ask forgiveness of those who may have been affected by my words and actions.”

Berenson is widely remembered in Peru for steadfastly defending the Tupac Amaru rebels for long after her 1995 arrest. She maintained she was a political prisoner even after her 2000 retrial.

Berenson was initially accused of being a leader of the MRTA, a group that bombed banks and kidnapped and killed civilians but was nowhere near as violent as the better-known Shining Path insurgency.

The United States government lobbied successfully for her retrial after a military tribunal initially convicted her of treason and sentenced her to life in prison.

Peruvians widely disapproved of Berenson’s release.

In a poll released Monday, 75 percent of Peruvians said they opposed her parole. The same percentage said, however, that they wanted her sentence commuted.

The face-to-face survey of 500 people in Lima by the firm CPI was conducted June 7-12 and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.4 percentage points.

Associated Press Writer Frank Bajak in Bogota, Colombia, contributed to this report.

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