The CNN article Peruvian court grants parole to imprisoned U.S. citizen caused me to do some surfing. I didn't know anything about Lori Berenson. The mere fact that a US citizen was imprisoned for 20 years in Peru - not for some drug-related mayhem and not for some domestic murder or anything of the sort - was sufficient to get me interested.
So, Lori Berenson: a nice girl, born to two professors: Rhoda and Mark Berenson. She is obviously talented, being accepted to MIT. She is big-hearted, volunteered for soup kitchens and blood banks, has done more volunteering work during her studies and later, in a big way:
Later she went to El Salvador and became secretary and translator for Leonel González, a leader of the Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN), during negotiations that achieved peace in 1992.All these good deeds were not enough for Lori and, after peace settled in El Salvador, she moved to Peru. Clearly Peru of the time wasn't a model democracy, far from it. Corrupt, torn apart by violence, predominantly poor and governed by a semi-dictator Alberto Fujimori, Peru was indeed a nation to do some good for. And then a nightmare strikes. Let's hear Lori telling her story by herself:
So, 20 years of jail by a secret military court is what a nice Jewish girl gets for wanting to change the corrupt and cruel system. Is there any doubt in your mind or in your heart that after 15 years of jail time, with a baby born in jail (in spite of a serious back problem which complicated her pregnancy), Lori deserves to go home and be free?
There is no doubt in my mind. Enough is enough, and it's past time for Lori to go home, to see her parents and friends. Only...
Only let's make the story tidy. Let's tie up all the loose ends that you may not immediately discern in the glib and slick presentation of Lori's case you've seen so far. The Free Lori Berenson, a young woman held political prisoner in Peru site, created by Lori's parents, also wouldn't help a lot with the mentioned loose ends. But let's leave the site for dessert.
You see, Lori, upon arriving in Peru, didn't look for soup kitchens, blood banks or secretarial services for a peace delegation of any kind. She decided instead to befriend the nice guys and gals of Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA). MRTA were much smaller than their colleagues/rivals of the Maoist Shining Path, but largely similar in goals and methods. As everyone agrees:
The MRTA, inactive since the late 1990s, was a Cuban-inspired guerrilla group that waged a campaign of assassinations, kidnappings and bombings, but was dwarfed in the shadow of the far more violent and deadly Maoist Shining Path.However, MRTA were deadly enough, murdering "only" 1.5% of the estimated 70,000 victims of the Peruvian violence. But of course, our Lori didn't participate directly in the murders. This is why she and her doting parents claim that she is a political prisoner. Believable, but for these loose ends:
Berenson co-rented a large house in Lima in an upscale neighborhood. Much of the house was later used as a safe house by MRTA operatives, with up to 15 of them occupying their part of the residence. Berenson later claimed to be unaware of the connection and to have moved out some months prior to her arrest.Could she really have been oblivious of 15 armed men sharing with her the house and filling it by arms, ammo and explosives?
Berenson obtained press credentials for herself and her photographer to the Congress of Peru, papers which were later reported to be "false journalist credentials"...Her photographer, Nancy Gilvonio, was actually the wife of Néstor Cerpa, the MRTA second-in-command — although Berenson claims she was unaware of this connection and claimed that she knew her only as a Bolivian photographer.Does Lori's version still sound credible? Not to me.
Berenson had entered the main Congress building with Gilvonio several times during 1995 to interview members of Congress. Gilvonio provided the information she collected to the MRTA including detailed information on the floor plans of Congress, its security and members. The plan was for the MRTA to invade the Congress building, kidnap the legislators, and exchange the hostages for MRTA prisoners.Yeah, and again our Lori is blissfully unaware of the goings-on. Cool. But let's proceed: as it's stated above, Lori was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a secret military court. Still true, only:
In 2000, after years of political pressure from the United States and the human rights community, Peru’s Supreme Military Council overturned Berenson’s treason conviction and life sentence and remanded her case to the civilian court for retrial. On June 20, 2001, a three-judge panel convicted Berenson of collaboration with terrorists, but ruled she was not a terrorist. She was sentenced to 20 years...But the political pressures, mentioned in this quote, don't stop, and:
In 2002, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States condemned the system under which Berenson was tried. Alleging violations of the American Convention on Human Rights, to which Peru is a party, Berenson's case was referred to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights of the Organization of American States when the government of Peru refused to accept the Commission’s recommendations. On November 25, 2004 the Inter-American Court upheld the conviction and sentence.Oops... so the girl wasn't as snow-pure as she and her mom and dad say, after all...
And here what a rabbi says:
"She thinks the MRTA's cause is justified," said Ronald Greenwald, a New York rabbi who has been involved in negotiating prisoner swaps around the world. He has visited Berenson four times and is working behind the scenes to get the charge reduced to "apology for terrorism," which carries a minimum prison sentence of six years. "I told her: 'I don't consider you a saint, Lori. I mean, you hung around with some pretty bad people.' She came back with her ideological philosophy of repression," Greenwald said in an interview in Lima during his last visit in September. Contradicting Berenson's court testimony, Greenwald said Berenson knew full well that she was dealing with MRTA rebels but had rationalized her situation to tailor it to her belief in nonviolence.Repentance? Hardly. And if you read more of the same article, you shall see what others say about Lori's claims of innocence.
Now to intangibles. To start with, all the claims of innocence and uninvolvement you have read and heard so far look kind of funny when you consider this:
Peruvians still remember Berenson’s Jan. 8, 1996, appearance before television cameras, when she made her now famous declaration in defense of the guerrilla group. With fists clenched at her sides, her face contorted in anger, she shouted: “There are no criminal terrorists in the MRTA. It is a revolutionary movement.”But OK, you might say, she was young and stupid then, and you don't judge a kid saying something like this in the heat of the moment. Let's skip forward then. Here is Lori, in 2010, pleading to be let free. Look at her face and try to decide for yourself whether you consider her apology really heartfelt. Now here is what Peruvians think:
Because Lori seems to be primed to join Amy Goodwin and her ranting fellows on Democracy Now. After all, she is not wasting her time in jail. Here she is already preaching about Katrina victims, Iraq, officials on vacation and whatnot:
I think she is worthy of Amy's attention as a potential employee. Don't you? In any case, check out Lori's writings too... but don't look for repentance, it's simply not there.
As for her parents and their their Free Lori Berenson, a young woman held political prisoner in Peru site: it is deeply unfair and even, I would say, hypocritical, to invest a lot of time and attention in a site about one's child and not mention the victims of the gang their daughter was involved with (she was and they know it). And, as a side remark: I hope they gave a thought or two to another question: where exactly their oh so progressive upbringing of their daughter went so terribly wrong?
And another question to wonder about: Say I were a parent of a daughter in a similar predicament: a long jail term, a conservative government I must beg to show some mercy, a nation that doesn't like my daughter and her friends in general... So, would I list one Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor of Linguistics and Philosophy, MIT as one of the members of the Committee to Free Lori Berenson?
Cross-posted on Yourish.com