Peru: Reactions to Release of Convicted Terrorist Lori Berenson

The period of terrorism by the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) ) in Peru is part of the country’s recent history; a period fairly but not yet sufficiently analyzed and much less researched and accepted. Those who lived it hope that something similar never happens again, and they reasonably fear the slightest chance of its reoccurrence. But what happens when our fear affects other people’s rights?

On May 25 the head of the First Supraprovincial Court declared the request by the defense of Lori Berenson (a US citizen encarcerated and charged for terrorism) as fair, accepting the arguments which showed she served three quarters of her sentence to 20 years of imprisonment imposed in 1995 for her links to the (MRTA), as reported [es] by RPP. Consequently, she was given probation and the 27th left [es] the prison and moved to her parents’ apartment in the Lima district of Miraflores.

But even before she was granted this release, the media began to question the decision, collecting opinions mainly against her by former judges [es], congressmen [es], ministers [es], vice ministers [es], but above all, from the neighbors [es] of the building [es] and the street [es] where Berenson would fulfill the remainder of her sentence under the probation guidelines. The reaction of the latter soon escalated, asking the mayor of the district [es] to take action, and performing demonstrations [es] and vigils [es] protesting the fact that Berenson decided to live in Miraflores.

Soon the issue led to a discussion of the possibility of expelling Lori Berenson from the country, which took shape when the Minister of Justice confirmed [es] that indeed this measure was being considered. Support for the move quickly surfaced in several [es] sectors [es] and at the moment no one knows what the final decision will be. Meanwhile, Berenson is in her parents’ aparment and has been harrased [es] by neighbors who do not agree with her presence in the district.

The media in turn have had a strong presence on the subject, like the daily La Republica which surveyed its readers: What do you think of the protest by residents of Miraflores with the arrival of Lori Berenson to the district? [es] Others have opened special sections, like the one in El Comercio: Lori Berenson Free [es]; and Perú21 –although it does not have a specific section— has a lot of reader participation in its article “¿Se puede expulsar a Berenson del Perú? [es]” (“Can Berenson be expelled from Peru?)

The lawyer and blogger Francisco Canazas of Apuntes Paruanos gives his opinion [es] on the case:

Con la libertad condicional de Lori Berenson sucedió lo esperado: A la par que se agita el miedo con el asunto, muchos políticos y algunos medios han demostrado una gran vocación por la ignorancia o por la mentira. … Convertir “libertad condicional” en “liberación” ha sido el mayor logro de los medios. Como también el buscar el rechazo a Berenson con el simple recojo de declaraciones.

With the parole given to Lori Berenson what was expected happened: Together with the fear agitated by the issue, many politicians and some media outlets have shown a great vocation for ignorance or for lies…. Converting “parole” to “release” has been the greatest achievement of the media. As also seeking the rejection of Bereson by simply picking up statements [es].

One of the first bloggers to protest against the release of Lori Berenson wrote for the blog Caviar de Cianuro and on the 27th said [es]:

La verdad era algo que iba a venir. Ahora los terroristas, una vez cumplidas sus condenas (incluyéndoles sus respectivos beneficios penitenciarios), iban a salir querrámoslo o no (personalmente, creo que estaban bien en sus celdas). … La pregunta es: ¿se han rehabilitado? yo creo que en muchos casos no. Y una muestra de ello es que muchos de estos ex-convictos van a querer participar en estas elecciones municipales y regionales utilizando agrupaciones de fachada tales como Patria Libre (emerretistas) o Movimiento por la Amnistía y los Derechos Fundamentales (senderistas).

The truth is that this was something that was coming. Now the terrorists, once their sentences are fulfilled (including their respective prison benefits), would come out whether we want it or not [es] (personally, I think they were doing just fine in their prison cells). … The question is: have they been rehabilitated? I think that in many cases they have not. And an example of this is that many of these ex-offenders will want to participate in these local and regional elections using front groups such as Patria Libre [es] (MRTA) or Movimiento por la Amnistía y los Derechos Fundamentale [es] (senderistas) [Movement for Amnesty and Fundamental Rights (part of the Shining Path)]

Silvio Rendón of Gran Combo Club comented [es] on this previous statement:

Según propagandista de Susana Villarán en la blogósfera, un terrorista no está “rehabilitado” si al recuperar su libertad después de cumplir su condena ejerce su derecho a ser elegido y participa en elecciones

According to propagandist Susana Villarán in the blogosphere, a terrorist is not “rehabilitated” if when regaining freedom after serving his sentence he exercises his right to be elected and participate in elections

Silvio also added in a comment showing suspicion the following information:

La sentencia de libertad condicional de Lori Berenson fue transmitida en directo por el Canal N. Estuvo presente una representante de la embajada de los Estados Unidos en el Perú. Raúl Vargas de RPP especuló que era un gesto de buena voluntad de Alan García para su próxima reunión con Obama. Lo mismo dice La Razón, aquí.

The probationary sentence of Lori Berenson was broadcasted live on Channel N. A representative of the United States Embassy in Peru was present. Raul Vargas of RPP speculated it was a gesture of good will by Alan Garcia for his next meeting with Obama. La Razón says the same thing here [es].

G. Bastas Chipoco from the blog Varias Posiciones brings another issue [es] to the discussion:

En tiempos de paz la voluntad de la ciudadanía sirve como una declaración de principios en contra de los vestigios del comunismo más rojo (sangre) y un paso adelante en la formación de una identidad y un activismo social más enérgico. La planeada construcción del Museo de la Memoria no puede ser mucho más de mal gusto ahora con una enemiga del estado libre y rampante por sus inmediaciones.

In peacetime the will of the people serves as a declaration of principles against the vestiges of the redder (blood) communism [es] and a step in the formation of an identity and a more energetic social activism. The planned construction of the Museo de la Memoria [es] (Museum of Memory) cannot be seen as anything other than bad taste now with an enemy of the state free and rampant in her vicinity.

And Luis Alberto Chávez from the blog Polítikha says [es]:

la excarcelación de la Berenson es el acatamiento de una decisión judicial por cumplimiento de una condena otorgada por un tribunal civil con garantía procesal y en pleno Estado de Derecho. Algo que, por supuesto, los fujimoristas, no entienden ni diferencian.

Berenson's release is in compliance with a judicial decision for a sentence awarded by a civilian court with full procedural guarantees and rule of law. Something, of course, Fujimori supporters, do not understand or differentiate.

The issue is obviously far from reaching an end, not only in the particular case of Berenson, but for all others convicted of terrorism [es] (and corruption) that are close to serving their sentences or who could benefit from a legal mechanism that would allow them to apply for parole. Will a witch-hunt unleash against them? Doesn't the fulfillment of their sentence entitle them to reintegrate into society under the conditions that they consider most appropriate and using all their restored rights? Is Peruvian society ready for this? Surely these questions will continue to be asked in the upcoming days.

Thumbnail image of Peruvian Flag used under a Creative Commons license. Image uploaded to Wikimedia Commons by Fernando Rodríguez Barboza

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