American Convicted in Peru

Earlier Wednesday, Berenson was led into the courtroom in San Juan de Lurigancho prison, flanked by two female guards in bulletproof vests. She wore a beige jacket and a gray turtleneck, with wire-rimmed glasses perched on her nose. Journalists and her supporters filled the room. After Berenson's 45-minute closing statement, Mark Berenson flashed a peace sign with his fingers and said he believed in his daughter's innocence. "She loves Peru, she loves justice. If there is justice in this country, this court will acquit her," he said. Mark Berenson and wife Rhoda, who both attended the hearing, have fought a long battle to free their daughter. They have made powerful allies in the U.S. Congress.

A Fujimori Smoke Screen?

Peru had hoped Berenson's retrial would showcase how much its justice system has improved since the end of President Alberto Fujimori's 10-year autocratic rule in November. Fujimori declared emergency rule in the early 1990s to fight powerful leftist guerrillas. He set up a system of hooded military judges who dished out tough sentences to suspected guerrillas in trials widely criticized as lacking due process. The government claimed the anonymity of judges was necessary to protect them against reprisals from rebel groups. Berenson said she was used by Fujimori as a "smoke screen" to make himself appear tough on terrorism. "They used me as a symbol of political violence and of terrorism for more than five years," she said Wednesday. "I did not deserve this type of label."

Worked for Salvadoran Rebel Leader

Berenson arrived in Peru after working as a personal secretary to a Salvadoran rebel leader during peace negotiations that ended El Salvador's civil war in 1992. She has described herself as a social activist caught up in circumstances beyond her control. Much of the prosecution's case rested on testimony from Pacifico Castrellon, a Panamanian who came to Peru with Berenson in late 1994. Castrellon testified that he and Berenson met with, and took cash from, MRTA leaders in Ecuador before settling in Lima several weeks later. He said one of the contacts was Nestor Cerpa, the top MRTA commander. Berenson, who denied the meeting ever took place, has acknowledged that she and Castrellon rented the house used by MRTA guerrillas as a hide-out. But she said she did not know her housemates were rebels.

Did She Gather Info on Peru's Congress?

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