OK, I only went on a couple of dates with her, and at the time, she wasn’t a terrorist. But still...
A long time ago, I met Lori Berenson through mutual friends. Let me say, I think she did in fact conspire with a bunch of Marxist guerrillas to blow up the Peruvian Congress. But when I met her, she was not the person with a bogus press pass, that rented the same house that 15 MRTA members lived in, with plans of the Parliament upstairs, and who after her arrest, screamed while handcuffed on national television, “There are no criminal terrorists in the MRTA; it’s a revolutionary movement!”
What she was, was a cutie in her senior year at LaGuardia High School, who worked part-time at David’s Cookies on Madison Avenue. I was working as a messenger for a law firm. If she even spoke Spanish at the time, I didn’t know it.
A lot of elected officials, including both Presidents Bush and Clinton sought her release or a new trial, and the case was mentioned in the press a lot. There were editorials in the Times, and a feature on 48 Hours. In the last few years, the conditions of her confinement eased, though she may have suffered permanent physical damage, and she married a man who was previously convicted of terrorism and became a lawyer. They were allowed conjugal visits, and have a 1 year-old child.
So now, the most (in)famous American in Peru, after 15 years in prison — under sometimes very harsh conditions, has been paroled, though she still has to spend the next 5 years in the country, she’ll be able to raise her son outside of a jail cell.
This case was always very sad to me. Thankfully, unlike the Sendero Luminoso, the MRTA were more of a bunch of f*ck-ups; better at getting killed, than killing, but still, most Peruvians would have happily seen her in jail for life. It was clear to me though, that the Peruvian government was always looking for an ‘out’ here. They gave her chance after chance to admit guilt, or at least show any contrition, and she never would throw them that bone.
“You, you, you’re like New York, Jewish, left-wing, liberal, intellectual, Central Park West, Brandeis University, the socialist summer camps and the, the father with the Ben Shahn drawings, right, and the really, y’know, strike-oriented kind of, red diaper…”
I wonder if they urged her to make any kind of gesture of remorse. No one would have blamed her. Her first trial was widely condemned as unjust, and the high-altitude prison where she was first held, was found to be inhumane.
When I first heard about the case, I hadn’t seen or talked to Lori in about 8 years. I thought it had to be a coincidence of someone with the same name; though they described her parents’ vocations, which I knew, and where she lived, in the East 20’s. I had been to her apartment, and met her folks. When I saw her picture in the paper, which I recall almost hesitating to look at, I was relieved that she appeared different enough, that I could somehow tell myself it wasn’t her. Only a few years later, when a story mentioned the cookie shop, did I know for sure; but I already knew.