For a decade and a half, Lori Berenson has been among the most controversial women in the world. So now that she's free, how does someone this infamous live?
Lori Berenson has long been hailed as either an idealistic political martyr or a privileged American who engaged in radical causes she didn't understand and got in over her head. Her release was, to say the least, the subject of debate. Paroled in Peru until 2015, Berenson is subject to taunts and abuse when she steps outside. Says Jennifer Egan of the New York Times,
Such an outpouring of rage at a 40-year-old woman, mother to a toddler, who was convicted in her mid-20s of abetting a terrorist plot that never took place, is a measure of the degree to which Peruvians are still traumatized by the violence that convulsed their country during the years when the Shining Path warred with the military and nearly 70,000 Peruvians were killed. It also underscores the fact that terrorism, all but defunct in Peru for more than a decade, is still a hot political issue.
Described as "slight and mild-mannered" Berenson is presented as enigmatic, and it's obvious that, in lieu of much to go on, she's an object of projection from both sides of the divide.
Berenson's emotional opacity has made her the locus of myriad contradictory visions: to many Peruvians, she is chilly and unrepentant; to Americans who worked for her release and visited her in prison, she is brave and stoic - almost saintly. But what I heard most often, especially from women, was that Berenson had reminded them of themselves: young, passionate, risk-taking.
Many would argue that this is part of a media campaign to make Berenson appear more sympathetic; whether it does so is an open question. When it comes to Lori Berenson, people's minds are made up — she has become as much a face of radicalism, of American naiivete, of American arrogance, of American youth — and specifically young women — depending one one's point of view, as a woman who remains strikingly unknowable. In a time when we're talking more than ever about the dangers, the risks, the motivations for traveling to parts of the world we don't fully comprehend, hers is a cautionary tale — although caution against whom, remains in the eye of the beholder.
The Liberation Of Lori Berenson [NY Times]