New Yorker Lori Berenson walked out of a Peruvian prison with a smile on her face on Thursday, then pushed through mobs of reporters before settling into a neighborhood that met her with hostility.
“Go away, terrorist!” one of her new neighbors shouted.
Now 40, she looked smaller, more austere than the strident young activist who nearly 15 years ago shouted that the leftist rebels she was accused of aiding were not terrorists but revolutionaries.
Busy with a young son and nursing a bad back, her once-flailing hair tamed in a braid, Berenson has, a prison psychological reports states, been calmed by motherhood, occupies herself with translations and wants to open a bakery.
At least one thing hasn’t changed: She has never denounced the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement she was convicted of abetting. When she was arrested in November 1995 with the wife of the group’s leader, prosecutors said Berenson was helping plot a takeover of Peru’s Congress. The alleged plot was thwarted in a gunbattle at a rebel hideout that Berenson was convicted of having rented. In the house, the police found a forged ID card bearing her photo.
Berenson was convicted of treason by a military court in 1996 and sentenced to life in prison. But after an intense campaign by her college professor parents and pressure from the US government, she was retried in a civilian court. In 2001, it convicted her of the lesser crime of terrorist collaboration and sentenced her to 20 years.
A judge granted her parole on Tuesday, noting defense documents that said Berenson had “recognized she committed errors” getting involved with the rebels.
Many Peruvians expressed displeasure, even anger, at Berenson’s release.
“Go away, terrorist!” said 42-year-old Carol Philips as Berenson and Anibal Apari, her lawyer and husband, pushed their way through journalists to get into the apartment building in the upscale Miraflores neighborhood where she is to live.
Berenson’s son, Salvador, has been living with his mother since his birth a year ago. He was taken to the fifth-floor apartment separately by her parents, Mark and Rhoda Berenson, who flew in from New York City on Wednesday.