Lori Berenson home for the holidays for the first time in 16 years
Lori Berenson, convicted of terrorism in Peru, arrived home in New York for the first time since 1995. Lori Berenson was accompanied by her 2-year-old son.
(AP Photo/Henny Ray Abrams)
Paroled American Lori Berenson, who stirred international controversy when she was convicted of aiding Peruvian guerrillas, arrived in the United States on Tuesday morning for her first visit home since Peruvian authorities arrested her in 1995.
The 42-year-old and her 2-year-old son, Salvador Apari, plan to spend the holidays with family in New York. Many in Peru wonder whether she will return to the country by the court-ordered deadline of Jan. 11.
Berenson did not speak to reporters as police at the airport in New Jersey escorted them to a black sedan. The boy looked with wonderment at the reporters and flashing cameras
"We are looking forward to the first holiday at home in a long, long time, and many relatives who haven't met Salvador are excited to see him," her mother, Rhoda Berenson, said while waiting in the international arrivals area. "This is not a political time; this is a time for family, friends and holidays."
Lori Berenson boarded a flight at Lima's main airport under intense media scrutiny. She told an Associated Press reporter while waiting for her flight that she intended to return to Peru. Berenson was accompanied by a U.S. Embassy employee.
"I just hope we don't get caught in a snow storm," she said, joking that such an occurrence in the U.S. would delay her return.
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 last year, lacked an additional document.
Peruvian migration officials finally gave Berenson another document Monday.
"What she was given was an exit order," the assistant to the office's director, Jose Luis Ubillus, told the AP.
A spokeswoman for the U.S. Embassy, Mary Drake, said consular officials were assisting Berenson "as they would to any citizen."
RPP radio quoted migration office director Edgard Reymundo as saying of Berenson: "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."
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 miscoordination and lack of clarity between state agencies," he said.
The court ruled that Berenson was not a flight risk.
By law, she must remain in Peru until her full sentence lapses unless President Ollanta Humala decides to commute it.
Berenson had 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 U.S. pressure, she was retried by a civilian court.
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 2 1/2 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.
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.
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.
Associated Press writer Martin Villena contributed to this report.