- The Washington Times - Monday, February 25, 2002

Ever since her 1995 arrest in the company of the wife of the then-leader of the pro-Castro terrorist organization, Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), Lori Berenson has been a cause celebre for an American left in search of a cause celebre. On Feb. 18, the Peruvian Supreme Court upheld her 20-year prison sentence for terrorism, and the last chance Berenson had to get away with her contributions to Peruvian terrorism seems to have faded when Justice Minister Fernando Olivera ruled out a pardon.
Like John Walker Lindh, the spoiled product of the California's "alternative style" of living, who sought succor in the Taliban's and al Qaeda's version of Islam, Berenson comes from an environment that explains her ideological trajectory. Her well-off parents, Mark and Rhoda, are part of the run-of-the-mill, ultra-liberal, Upper West Side Manhattan establishment, and both were professors at the City College. She briefly "studied" anthropology or, more precisely, became indoctrinated at MIT, not exactly the chosen route of the poor. And there she became a professional revolutionary: first, as a militant with CISPES, the 1980s U.S. front for the Salvadoran Marxist terrorists; then, in 1988, she went to El Salvador, where she contacted front organizations of the Leninist guerrillas. She then became the FMLN boss Leonel Gonzalez' secretary (and more), and briefly married a Salvadoran communist.
In 1990, she went to Nicaragua, where she was known as "Comrade Angelita," to help the Sandinistas Leninists only to see them go down in the elections. By 1992, she had "lost" her U.S. passport in order to hide regular trips to Nicaragua and illegal ones to El Salvador. By 1994, she was in search of new revolutionary (read totalitarian Leninist) fields of operation. She found them in Panama, where she hitched up with a known MRTA agent, Castrellon, who, unfortunately for her, spilled the beans while tried in Peruvian courts.
While in Lima in 1994, she claimed to be a journalist for obscure Third World journals, and she and Pacifico Castrellon rented a house for the MRTA leadership and paid for their food, lodging and separate arrangements, while she claims she knew nothing. Her "sublets," meanwhile, were accumulating ammunition and preparing to capture the Peruvian Congress with her help. Indeed, posing as a "journalist" she made sketches of congressional seatings to help MRTA's failed attempt to mass-kidnap the Peruvian legislature.
When captured and presented to the media in 1995, she rabidly pretended that there are no terrorists in Peru, that MRTA are not terrorists, and that the problem is "injustice." The problem is that no Peruvian, or indeed anyone who knows anything about Peru (that excludes some 43 senators and half the House, who signed petitions to then-President Clinton demanding "fair" treatment for Berenson) believed her or should have. As a "journalist," she should have known and certainly did, hence the very reason for joining them.
They were the very same middle- or upper-class group, whose leaders starting with Victor Polay, the supreme leader, son of a senator and roommate of a future president made it a major business of kidnapping Peruvian businessmen for ransom, and keeping them in underground holes ("people's prisons") until they paid off, and even killing them after they did so. That is what happened with David Ballon Vera, a businessman kidnapped by MRTA in 1992. He was killed six months later, after losing half his weight in a hole simply because his family could not pay the $200, 000 ransom. When a MRTA female member defected, MRTA tried to kill her; when they initially failed, they tried again, and this time succeeded in murdering her, while pregnant and in a hospital expecting her child. These, then, are the people Berenson declared to be "fighters for justice" and, decidedly not terrorists.
Nor do Bereson and her supporters her mother published a book, "Lori: My Daughter, Wrongfully Imprisoned in Peru," supporting both her daughter and totalitarianism in the United States have a legal case. Sentenced to life by a military tribunal in 1996, her sentence was cashiered in 2000, and remanded to a civilian court the same that decided to keep her in jail for the next 15 years. All this under President Toledo, obsessed with unraveling everything related to his predecessor, Alberto Fujimori.
Ultimately, the Berenson story is related to September 11. Americans cannot seriously claim a moral right to pursue terrorists abroad as long as we also defend American terrorists abroad terrorists like Berenson and Walker. It would be unfortunate and counterproductive if the Bush administration would move a finger, let alone use its influence, on Peru on behalf of Berenson. She is a terrorist whose deserved fate is oblivion in a cold Peruvian jail no TV cable, no privileges and no more.

Michael Radu is director of the Center on Terrorism and Political Violence at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.

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