Sympathy for Lori Berenson, Baker, Music Teacher, Unrepentant Terrorist Helper
Simon Romero reported from Bogota, Columbia, Thursday on the surprise turn in the case of Lori Berenson, the young American woman (now with "baking skills") convicted in 1996 of aiding the violent Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, a Marxist terrorist group in Peru. She's now out on parole in Peru, and Romero's story and headline suggested that maybe everyone should just get over it: "Over 14 Years, an American Inmate and Peru Itself Found Ways to Transform."
When Lori Berenson was jailed in Peru on terrorism charges over 14 years ago, she was a fiery young leftist from New York enmeshed in a shadowy Marxist rebel group, stunning a war-weary nation with her clenched fists and defiant statements in support of revolution.
Now that Ms. Berenson, 40, has been granted parole from a women's prison in Lima, Peru's capital, both she and the nation that imprisoned her have changed in significant ways. Though her past still looms large, prison officials and fellow inmates now talk about her baking skills, her teaching music to cellmates and her devotion to her 1-year-old son, Salvador.
Resentment still festers over Ms. Berenson's role in that violence, a sentiment that will be hard to avoid given that she has been ordered to remain in Peru while on parole.
Nearly 70,000 people died in 20 years of war with the nation's rebels. And while Ms. Berenson maintains her innocence in connection with the terrorism charges, a Peruvian tribunal convicted her in 2001 of collaborating with the Túpac Amaru Revolutionary Movement by renting a safe house and scouting for the group in preparation for a foiled plot to take members of Peru's Congress hostage.
"What indignation," said Peru's vice president, Luis Giampietri, after hearing of the plan for her release. "The laws here are applied with a double standard."
Ms. Berenson, while having mellowed somewhat during her long years in prison, holds a different view, contending that the Peruvian authorities violated her right to a fair trial during closed military proceedings in 1996, and then deprived her of due process rights in another civilian trial in 2001 when she was sentenced to 20 years in prison.
Romero glosses over the fact that Berenson has never denied being part of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, and is not apologizing for her affiliation today. In a TV appearance before her trial Berenson shouted: "There are no criminal terrorists in the M.R.T.A.; it is a revolutionary movement!"
Romero noted that "Ms. Berenson does not hide her leftist convictions" and quoted her mother saying "I don't think she'd be a Tea Partier." (Of course not: Tea Partiers aren't violent.) Romero then complained of the stigma around Bersenon, who has been "branded" a terrorist in Peru's newspapers. Imagine that.
But many challenges await as well. Television crews descended on her neighbors-to-be in Lima, some of whom expressed disgust at the prospect of living near a "terrorist," as she is still branded in Lima's newspapers. As part of her parole, she must report every 30 days to discuss her work experiences and cannot consume alcohol. She is also expected to be barred from leaving Peru until 2015, when her sentence expires.