The Christmas ordeal of Lori Berenson, the paroled American who spent 15 years in jail in Peru on charges that she aided Peruvian rebels, has ended, as she and her 2-year-old son landed in the Newark, N.J., airport for the holidays Tuesday morning.
It is the first time she has been on US soil in 16 years, and many in the US have sympathy for the woman whose image softened while she was behind bars. But in Peru, where many still view her as a terrorist, it is renewing examination of her role in the nation’s violent history. Many argue that she shouldn't be given special treatment, and wonder whether she will even return by the deadline of Jan. 11.
Former presidential candidate Lourdes Flores Nano criticized the court decision that allowed Ms. Berenson to travel to the US for the holidays in the first place. Ms. Flores said to RPP Noticias that the treatment given to the American was “surprising and wrong.”
Julio Galindo, the anti-terrorist attorney general, told the publication Peru21 that Berenson should not be able to leave the country because “the exit from the country of those convicted of terrorism is prohibited,” the paper writes. He also warned that there was no guarantee that she would return.
Berenson was convicted of collaborating with the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) in 1996, in a plot to attack the Peruvian Congress and overthrow the government. She was given life in prison, but the sentence was later reduced on appeal to 20 years. After serving three-quarters of that sentence, she was released on parole in May 2010. (She was briefly jailed again in August 2010 on legal technicalities, and then re-released in November 2010.)
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Her parole sparked anger in Peru, still reeling from its 20-year conflict which ended in 2000 after some 70,000 lives were lost. Headlines across the country labeled her a “terrorist.”
Although the MRTA was far less violent than the Shining Path, it became famous for its storming of the Japanese ambassador's house in December 1996, holding 72 hostages for over four months.
Berenson initially was barred from leaving Peru by authorities at the airport on Friday, despite court approval granting her permission to leave the country between Dec.r 16 and Jan. 11. On Monday, she was finally given an exit order that allowed her to travel to the US, the AP reports.