There was considerable substance to Berenson's allegation, made during her second trial in 2001, that the Peruvian government had profited politically from her conviction and imprisonment. In the months following her first trial, the Fujimori administration spoke repeatedly of its success in thwarting the MRTA plot against the Congress, and it seldom missed an opportunity to boast of its courage in jailing the terrorists' "American leader." The case touched deep-seated public sensitivities. Almost everyone had felt the deep-seated economic problems of the 1980s and the compounding of them by the emergence of left-wing guerrilla groups, especially the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path) and MRTA, both of which employed terror. In ten years, guerrilla attacks and government counterattacks took some thirty thousand lives.
Fujimori, a controversial figure at the outset of his presidency in 1990, gained popularity when his administration began to bring inflation under control and the government launched a determined effort to wipe out terrorism. His initial triumph against terrorism came in 1992, when police seized the leaders of the Shining Path and military courts sentenced them to life in prison. Late in 1996, the MRTA handed Fujimori a means for countering the increasing American pressures to grant Berenson a new trial. In December, armed members of the MRTA stormed the Japanese ambassador's residence in Lima during a party and took hundreds of hostages. In return for their release the MRTA demanded release of imprisoned members of their group. By April 1997 only seventy-two hostages remained. Government troops then attacked, killing all of the guerrillas and freeing all but one of the hostages.
If Berenson had any Peruvian sympathizers, they were gone by the time the hostage episode was over. As Berenson's second trial approached in 2001, American reporters heard Peruvians repeatedly condemn her as a "gringa terrorist," deserving harsh punishment. The MRTA's operation against the Japanese embassy echoed the plan that Berenson had allegedly helped to draft against the Peruvian Congress. Moreover, the guerilla leading the charge on the embassy was Nestor Cerpa Cartolini, the man the Peruvian prosecutors claimed had asked Berenson to establish a safe house in Lima.
Despite Department of State pressure after April 1997 for a new trial for Berenson in a civil court, Peru would not back away from the life sentence handed down by its military court and Berenson's incarceration in a bleak, unheated prison high in the Andes.