In this era, no sympathy for Berenson

Posted: Wednesday, June 27, 2001

It is sad to see Lori Berenson's picture in the news and conclude that an old activist standard needs rewriting: "The times, they have a' changed." Timothy McVeigh changed them when he blew up the federal building in Oklahoma. They changed because we are weary of violence in the name of idealism and because the U.S. relationship to the world has changed.

Berenson, 31, an American, was found guilty last week in a Peruvian court of working with a group called the Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement, or MRTA. The group's record is one of mayhem, kidnappings and attacks on innocent people.

The U.S. State Department and human rights organizations rightly condemned the secret military trial at which Berenson was convicted almost five years ago. Her second trial was open and, by all indications, fair. The judges convicted her of collaborating with terrorists and gave her a 20-year prison sentence.

Berenson denied the charges, and her demeanor this time was different from that day, soon after her arrest, when a defiant woman shouted that MRTA was not a terrorist organization but a revolutionary movement.

Berenson's parents and friends have waged an impressive public relations campaign. Her lawyers have appealed to Peru's Supreme Court. If that fails, U.S. lawmakers should resist the temptation to intervene on her behalf.

To look at photos of this seemingly sweet, middle-class white woman who faces another 15 years in prison is to remember a time when some Americans had an abundance of mercy for self-professed revolutionaries. This would be the era in which alleged Symbionese Liberation Army member Sara Jane Olson is accused of putting bombs under police cars in L.A.

But times have changed. Americans, like Peruvians, have lost all patience with bombers.

We have encouraged this South American nation to honor the rule of law. Now we need the discipline to look at one of our own citizens and tell her what we would have told a Peruvian convicted in Oklahoma of assisting Timothy McVeigh: "If you do the crime, you do the time."

Munoz is a Los Angeles Times editorial writer.



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