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The Ascension of St. Lori

The Left Reviews Its Martyr Template

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, March 28, 2001.

Lori Berenson, the American who was arrested in Peru some years ago for treason by military wallaby court, and has been in prison since, is on trial again on reduced charges. I'm unclear on a lot of this, and suspect it really doesn't matter since Berenson has been on show trial for years, and the actual specifics, as the actual legalities, are of less moment than the political pressures brought to bear.

I am uncertain how a foreigner can be held on treason charges. Nonetheless, Berenson was and is currently charged with abetting a leftist guerilla organization - name and mission statement unimportant and, in any case, predictable - and being an accessory to murder and mayhem against the government and therefore, government logic dictates, the people of Peru. Berenson's position, reduced to essentials, is that the Peruvian government is a fascist thugocracy and deserves to die. She doesn't say this sort of thing in public, of course, at least anymore, at least in her courtroom, but that is a valid summation of her position. Oh, that and she didn't know that she was abetting a violence prone street gang. She thought she was a secretary for a guy who she didn't know was the leader of the gang created to overthrow the government. She went to MIT, and she expects this to be believed?

No, she doesn't. The government and Berenson are correct about each other. Peru is corrupt as only five hundred years of institutionalized corruption and attendant hypocrisy about it can make a very poor and conflicted nation. Its traditions, religions, and society are cell phone feudal. Even a supposed first generation Peruvian, like former Premiere Fujimori, proved as ethically pure as Lima street water, as altruistic as a street walker, as Democratic as a Son of Heaven. Fujimori may never actually even have been a Peruvian citizen, since he was, apparently, born in Japan and never filed papers in Peru, so perhaps Peru is a little lax about the concepts of citizenship anyway and can accuse anyone of Treason. You note, however, that isn't happening with the corrupt Fujimori or his law enforcement henchmen....

In any event, the last thing the power structure wants is a stirring series of elections by free and contemplative electors. They are not comfy with land reform, at least regarding Incan descendents. And, in their continent's tradition, they employ death squads to kill the more annoying of their enemies too poor to utilize similar minions of their own to exact revenge. But Berenson may represent an almost equally callous mindset: the romantic ideal of the revolutionary as tourist, able to inspire revolt, incite violence, but somehow be protected herself and escape to be interviewed on NPR and reluctantly set her memories to paper at the behest of publishers, eventually biodegrading on large verandahs overlooking the Hudson in her middle years, bitching about Dow Chemical while cashing her dividend checks, somehow too overweight to participate in walks against hunger. That isn't fair, I admit. For all I know, she is not the sort of woman to marry politics to lust and adopt the whims of boyfriends into dogma for herself. But I know and bet a bunch of KGNU's listeners have known an uncomfortable number of seasonal revolutionaries with unclear but ample sources of income. Who travel, or claim to travel, to third world countries to vaguely incite violence against the establishment, or activities that would predictably lead to violence, without truthfully telling the peasantry, who will as predictably take it in the shorts, or tell themselves what to reasonably expect. And who never seem to be there when the fragrant items hit the revolving blade.

Somehow, Berenson was caught. I don't believe she was unclear what was going on or what the activities of her boyfriend's cell actually were. And the wimpy American Left, always ready to mean well feebly, dusted off the martyr template and refers to her lovingly as Lori, whether they know her or not, and equates her status with every hero they can almost plausibly attach her to. You might think her an abducted seventeen year old tourist rather than the thirty something revolutionary she is. However, note that all attention of the Left is focussed on getting her out, just like the military drops everything to retrieve bodies, rather than on the progressive goals she allegedly fought for. If the Peruvians do not let Berenson out soon, or even at all, it is the Left's hope she will serve as a living martyr to their cause, however defined, and that their ranks will swell.

But there is the slow, painful suspicion that the opposite will happen. That today's Americans don't like events without happy endings, and that a living example of the possible punishment awaiting those who choose to inflict their political beliefs in foreign lands might stifle interest in this sort of endeavor. Furthermore, there is that trove of historical evidence that the governments produced by left wing revolutions are no better and sometimes worse than their predecessors.

It may be, ironically enough, that hated technoloy - the Internet - will prove to be the greatest freedom fighter of all, one having no agenda of its own, and far more successful than Marxist cells compiling proscriptions lists in Lima suburbs.