Red Emma Speaks

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

Lori Berenson, Hero Imprisoned

Lori Berenson.

When I first read of her case ten years ago, it struck my heart. Essentially, this is because, with a little more disregard for my personal safety and a lot more commitment to the causes I hold dear, I could have easily ended up just like her. I knew women involved in the groups she initially allied herself with, including CISPES, back in the early 90s. I found them to be admirable, and I wished I was more like they were--willing to give up so much to work for the poor, the oppressed. Willing to stick their necks out. She came from a background similar to mine. and when I read her story in the Village Voice, and her parents' willingness to work so tirelessly for her freedom after she was arrested, I wondered if my own parents would do the same, given their politics.

I remember being angry that, in the beginning, people tried to disavow her views, tried to belittle her commitment. They called her all the names people are prone to use when confronted with someone willing to give everything for the causes they believe in. They tried to make her look like a typical American caught by her own reckless disregard for the laws of other countries--like a drug runner caught in Singapore. I found it maddening.

I identified with her. Partly it was our shared age, and also my internally cherished idealism, which I never allowed to flower to the extent she did hers. She took her beliefs, and she lived them. She risked everything.

And she has lost so much. It is now at the half-way point of her incarceration. She suffers physically, and yet refuses to take privileges not accorded to her brown-skinned sister prisoners. It brings me to tears to think that she has another ten years to go, unless the US demands justice for one of its less-regarded citizens, and the Peruvian government stops using her as a poster child for anti-terrorist hysteria.

Since the beginning, I've not had much hope for her in our world, where calling someone a "commie" is akin to calling them a murderer. 9/11 has only made matters worse.

But nonetheless, this is the best article I've read in a long time in regard to Lori's case--balanced, sane, and full of all the necessary details to understand the full scope of what's going on and why she's being held for so long for doing so little.

From the article, in Political Affairs Magazine: The Berenson case has lost some of the ├ęclat it once had. New disasters and atrocities come up in the news. The protracted nature of Lori's imprisonment, which should be prompting outrage, has instead led people to treat it as being some distant memory. We need to realize that this case is not just about a grossly unfair punishment being meted out to a U.S. national abroad, but that the Peruvian government's course has placed in peril international institutions upon whose accountability we all rely.

And for more information on the status of her case, visit