American Convicted in Peru

"They used me as a symbol of political violence and of terrorism for more than five years," she said today. "I did not deserve this type of label."

Berenson complained that the civilian court was still applying the same draconian anti-terrorism laws decreed by Fujimori in 1992.

"This is a political trial," Berenson said. "Where is the presumption of innocence?"

Peruvian prosecutors argued that there was solid evidence of her guilt.

A Rebel Association

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 hideout. But she said she did not know her housemates were rebels.

Prosecutors say Berenson posed as a journalist to enter Peru's legislature several times in 1995 to gather information. She was accompanied by Cerpa's wife, who acted as her photographer. Berenson, who was accredited by two left-leaning U.S. magazines but never published, insists she was researching articles about women and poverty.

Berenson and Cerpa's wife were arrested hours before a military assault on a rebel safehouse that left three rebels and one police officer dead.

Police say rebels had moved into the top floor of the house, where they were creating a plan to seize Congress and hold the members hostage in exchange for imprisoned comrades.

Berenson moved out of the house three months before her arrest and said she knew nothing about activities on the top floor of the house, where police discovered 8,000 rounds of ammunition and dynamite.

Other evidence allegedly seized from the house included a coded floor plan of Congress allegedly scrawled by Berenson. There was also a forged Peruvian election ID card bearing her photo. She suggested they were planted by police.

The MRTA is named for an Inca ruler who led an Indian revolt against the Spanish colonists in the 1730s. The group has been blamed for the deaths of some 200 people since it took up arms in 1984.

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