06 March 2011

Political Predicaments

Lori Berenson and her son, Salvador, in Lima, Peru.

A Moment of Calm Berenson prepared her son for the chance
that she could have returned to prison.

On Parole Lori Berenson at the apartment where she is living in Lima. The
conditions of her parole require her to remain in Peru until 2015

Berenson before a court in Lima, Peru, defending her parole, January 2011.

These images* all come from the cover story in today's New York Times Magazine on the travails of Lori Berenson. It seems pretty clear both that Berenson was railroaded by a desperate and repressive Peruvian government who imprisoned her for a decade and a half and that she set herself up for being railroaded by consorting with militants on Peru who were rapidly going over the deep end. She herself admits the latter point.

How does one simultaneously condemn exploitative and oppressive circumstances without, at the same time, seeming to - or, for that matter, actually - endorsing whatever popular resistance might arise in the face of such circumstances? Activists are caught in a bind and, too often, like Berenson if we take her at her word, allow themselves to be absorbed not into opposition, but into violent opposition. This is a predicament that seems to me to be unavoidable for critics - I think here of someone like Arundhati Roy - who neither endorse or excuse violent resistance nor condone though their silence the actions and circumstances that give rise to it.

The problem, in part, is that no matter how carefully you articulate your stance, there are those who will misconstrue your words, sometimes willfully, sometime by simply not listening. Roy, I think, is a perfect example of that. And, of course, as was the case in Peru during the 1980s and 1990s, both the government and the armed opposition proved more than willing to simply eliminate those who did not simply embrace one side or the other. Berenson is not a terribly sympathetic figure; she surely did not navigate the predicament she confronted very well. But that in no way implies that she brought that predicament on herself.
* Note: All four images © Mary Ellen Mark for The New York Times. Our "paper of record" seems pretty adept at recruiting good talent!

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is true that Berenson did not navigate the predicament she found herself enmeshed in very well but it seems much too generous to grant her a great deal of slide action. Her presence alone in Peru wasn't the sufficient cause of her subsequent troubles but her decision to consort with Shining Path was certainly an efficient cause of her problems.

07 March, 2011 16:26  
Blogger Jim Johnson said...

PTC - Actually the group Berenson was involved with was the M.R.T.A. and The Times story makes a couple of things clear, namely that: (1) "The M.R.T.A. was a much smaller insurgent group than the dominant Shining Path, and historically less violent" and (2) "that the group had come into existence in the early 1980s largely to oppose the neo-Maoist Shining Path."

The the M.R.T.A. became involved in a sort of self-destructive arms race dynamic with the Shining Path and the government seems beyond dispute. But they did not have the same record of blood-thirstiness as either of the other two. So maybe Berenson gets a bit of slack. And she does claim to have been ignorant of the M.R.T.A.'s plans - perhaps willfully ignorant. But one cannot be guilty of something one actually does not know about. JJ

07 March, 2011 21:16  

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