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    Interview With Ingrid Betancourt, Colombian Hostage

    May 14, 2020
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    Interview With Ingrid Betancourt, Colombian Hostage
    Stencil of Íngrid Betancourt on a wall in Paris on 23 July 2005
    Image by Damouns

    Íngrid Betancourt spent nearly seven years in the South American jungle as the prisoner of a communist group.  Betancourt was abducted by FARC terrorists at a checkpoint in rural Colombia in 2002. Being a Colombian senator and French citizen, her case and seven years in the jungle attracted much international attention. 

    Before her capture the Colombian-French politician had founded the Oxygen Green Party and was a rising star in South American politics. She was the party's candidate for the presidency in 2002 and campaigned on a platform of anti-corruption, environmentalism and left-wing causes, an effort that was cut abruptly short by her capture. Only a daring commando raid named after a chess-move Operation Jacque (Check) freed her and other hostages in 2008. The United States provided intelligence and logistic support to the operation which liberated her from her communist captors. 

    Q: What is your view of the ongoing peace process in Colombia which has a chance to end the longest conflict in the Western Hemisphere?

    A: We had a recent presidential election, and the winner has announced he is going to reform the agreement so that we will need to asses the scope of that change. Of course, if the agreement Is deconstructed and ends up with FARC returning to war, it would be a disaster.

    Q: The political situation today in Colombia is vastly different at least between the FARC and the Colombian Government. However, the ELN, another communist terrorist organization, has yet to make peace with the government. What was the situation like in 2002? 

    A: In 2002, FARC was at the time I was abducted, the strongest communist guerrilla group in the country. They made kidnapping a core part of their policy in Columbia. They were also narco-guerrillas and heavily involved in trafficking. 

    Once I was freed, and there was an amazing Operation Jacque that liberated 15 hostages including me. Once that happened the FARC entered into an internal crisis. They were [soon] defeated on the ground, and it opened the way for negotiations with Dos Santos. The negotiated peace agreement is something that we as victims have supported. Because we don’t want other Colombians to suffer what we suffered.

    Q: Given all you suffered through while in the jungle -- what was the worst part for you?

    A: There is no worst part -- just imagine you are seven years away from children and family. Can you imagine being away from your family like that? My father died when I was kidnapped. I was tortured and humiliated violently. We were starved, there was no medical treatment, it was just hell for all of us.

    Q:  Some have claimed you were briefly held in Venezuela… did you see any evidence of this?

    A: I don’t’ think I was [ever] in Venezuela. But I don’t know where I was exactly. This is the Colombia jungle where there is no demarcated frontier between the two countries. This is the Amazonian jungle of which there are 8 million square miles.

    We knew, of course, they were working with Chavez. So of course, there were relations with Venezuela and Chavez. It is hard to say who benefited more from this relationship. Though, President Chavez was engaged in working to free FARC hostages.

    Q: What kind of support do you think Chavez was providing the FARC in 2002?

    A: Was Chavez supporting them or were they supporting Chavez?  To be honest, if Chavez hadn’t been mediating with Colombians and offering his mediation to free the hostages -- then Operation Check wouldn’t have started.  Its success was a convergence of influences you know between President Chavez, President Sarkozy, and President Bush that led to us being freed.

    Q: The operation that freed you relied on a ruse of their being negotiations to free you. One of the reasons the United States was interested is that there were also three Americans held with you. What were your interactions like with them?

    A:  Yes, I saw them in captivity. I didn’t always get along with them, all the time, at least with one of them. Over all, we managed to develop strong ties. Imagine spending days, months, years, in the dark context of the jungle. Abducted from everything you know -- then solidarity and fraternity become important. It was tough but, the good can help you through all the bad.

    Q: As the founder of the Green Party how did you view the FARC’s record on environmentalism?

    A: The Green Party which I founded was at odds with everything that the FARC movement stood for. Being [narco-guerrilas] they were not green at all. The FARC was engaged in large-scale pollution in support of their drug trafficking. They were degrading the delicate ecosystem of the Amazon and environment more generally. During my time in captivity, I saw some of this personally including piles of blue barrels full of chemicals used to produce cocaine. These chemicals were thrown in the rivers without regard. Politically, we could see they were not the good guys in any way. Look, these are people who would kill animals as easily as they would people. I believe they were terrorists.

    Q:  There are a million Uyghurs in prison in China for their faith. There are thousands of more political prisoners in North Korea, Cuba and Iran. What do you say to them?

    A:  I would tell them that they have to search for the light. Wherever that light is in every human soul, and I think that is important to maintain that light. You are confronting your enemies that are cruel and harsh, and despite that, you have to find the light. Even if you don’t succeed. -- you need to fight for your dignity against the system.



    Joseph Hammond

    Joseph Hammond is a journalist and former Cairo correspondent for Radio Free Europe. He has written on issues ranging from boxing to international relations on four continents. He has also worked as a consultant on development issues and received a Fulbright fellowship to work with the government of Malawi.
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