April 10, 2008 [LINK / comment]

Free Lori Berenson? No way!

From the department of political correctness: Left-wing activists have launched a campaign to free convicted terrorist supporter Lori Berenson from prison in Peru: see www.freelori.org.** Ms. Berenson is an American citizen who was tried, convicted, and sentenced in 1996, and later retried and reconvicted after complaints were lodged about the judicial proceedings in the first trial. Some people, such as her parents, claim that she was an innocent dupe of the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA, the lesser-known of the two main terrorist organizations in Peru), but she lived with those people for several months, and she had to have known. In the courtroom, Ms. Berenson loudly proclaimed her allegiance to the MRTA cause, and she got what she deserved. Anyone who argues in defense of Ms. Berenson is, wittingly or not, abetting the cause of international terrorism.

** I learned of that Web site from Rick Howell, who is clearly sympathetic to Ms. Berenson. All I can say is that the vast majority of Peruvians with whom I have talked, elites as well as common people, are not at all sympathetic to the misguided American woman.

As background on this case, this excerpt from Chapter 8 of my dissertation (footnotes excluded) describes Ms. Berenson's involvement with the MRTA, and a subsequent dramatic episode:

Unlike Sendero Luminoso, the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA) held out well into Fujimori's second term, partly because it was more astute in international politics. In November 1995, police were tipped off about a plot to bomb the Peruvian Congress, and a gun battle erupted at a house in the La Molina suburb east of Lima where a large arms cache was found. The woman renting the house, a young American named Lori Berenson, was arrested, found guilty of treason in a military court, and sentenced to life in prison, giving rise to another international human rights issue nagging Peru. In a desperate bid to stave off defeat, the MRTA carried out a stunning seizure of the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima in December 1996. Its leader Nestor Cerpa demanded the release of jailed MRTA members (including Berenson) as a condition for freeing the hostages, which included Foreign Minister Tudela. After four months of mediation efforts, government commandos launched a nearly perfect rescue operation in April 1997. It was another political triumph for Fujimori, but some criticized the way he took advantage of the bloody episode.

While visiting Lima in February 1997, I stopped at the scene of the hostage crisis to take a picture camera, in which you can see soldiers guarding the perimeter and television journalists on a rooftop. Actually, I had to request permission to pass through an outer perimeter of guards to get that close, and it was still a half block away.