The Miami Herald
Oct. 08, 2003

True Love or Legal Maneuver? Jailed American, Rebel Marry

A woman convicted of aiding rebels has wed a guerrilla she met in prison. Skeptics call it a marriage of convenience.


  LIMA - They met by chance.

  Lori Berenson, an American jailed for helping leftist guerrillas, was walking down a flight of stairs. Aníbal Apari, a convicted guerrilla, was returning from the prison dentist.

  He said hello. She only nodded. That was six years ago.

  They were married last week.

  And next week Apari, now 40 and on parole, hopes to see his still-jailed, 33-year-old bride for the first time in five years. It is an unusual relationship, to be sure. Skeptics say it is only a marriage of convenience.

  Apari said he and Berenson met in 1997, a day after he had been transferred to Peru's notorious Yanamayo prison, where inmates were housed in cells without window panes to protect against the freezing Andean winds. The prison houses both men and women.

  Apari -- thin with wavy black hair and pock marks on his face -- was an admitted member of the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA, which had tried without success to violently overthrow Peru's government.

  Berenson was imprisoned for helping MRTA plot the seizure of all 120 members of Congress, and renting a safe house for the rebels. She maintains she's innocent.

  A secret military court convicted her and sentenced her to life in prison. She won little sympathy from Peruvians, especially after she raised a fist before TV cameras and screamed that MRTA was "a revolutionary movement.''

  Nonetheless, the secret proceedings prompted an international outcry, sparked by Berenson's New York City-based parents, that forced a second trial. She was convicted again, this time sentenced to 20 years.

  In the meantime, Apari says, the two fell in love and made plans to marry. ''Our relationship has basically been based in letter writing,'' he said in an interview.

  They were married Thursday. He was in Lima, unable to travel under the terms of his parole. She was at a prison in the northern city of Cajamarca, 350 miles away. His father stood in for the groom.


  Now that they are married, Apari expects to win the right to speak freely with her by telephone and permission to visit her. He cheerfully notes that she is only a 14-hour bus ride away. They last saw each other on the day she was transferred from the Yanamayo prison five years ago.

  Even while there, it was hardly an ideal relationship.

  They could talk only for a few moments when she passed by the wing housing men on her way to the prison yard.

  She proclaimed her devotion to him by wearing his sweater one day in the prison yard, he recalled.

  Apari says they were alone at Yanamayo only a few times, and even then it was under a guard's watchful eye.

  Have they even kissed? Apari notes that prison rules prohibited physical contact between inmates, but adds with a smile, ``There are ways to do things.''

  After 12 years and two months in prison, Apari was freed in July and is working as a legal aide in Lima. He expects to finish his legal studies next year and become a
  defense attorney. He won't say whether he regrets his involvement with the MRTA.


  Berenson's sentence runs until 2015.

  José Barba, a conservative member of Congress, wishes them the best, but believes Apari and Berenson got married to give her another outlet with the outside world and to win sympathy for her upcoming appeal before a human-rights court in Costa Rica.

  ''It was a marriage orchestrated by her defense attorneys,'' Barba says.

  Apari, though, says he loves his bride.

  ''She is very intelligent and very courageous,'' he says. ``Besides, she's beautiful.''