By Shweta Mukesh
Kidnapped by the FARC for six years, Ingrid Betancourt looks back at her horrific struggles and is filled with nothing but love. She was exposed to the purest forms of torture under which most human beings would be left soulless and numb. However, her desire for freedom pushed her to attempt escaping, expose corruption, and fight for the basic rights granted to every Colombian citizen.
Reflecting on the past six years, Betancourt begins answering UCSD political science professor Peter Smith’s questions and reliving her painful days trapped in the jungles of Colombia.
The biggest problem in the jungle was space. She stated that prisoners were forced to live on top of each other and were surrounded by guards. “The guards fed us lies in order to create animosity between each other. There were barbed wires that prevented us from escaping and every act was monitored.” She explains that initially there were seven Colombians. However, three Americans were later captured and brought into the camp. The Americans did not speak the native language and had no beds. Although initially it was stressful and uncomfortable, today Betancourt believes they became a family. She states “when you are abducted you lose everything. You do not even have control over your body. Eating and using the restroom became public displays of humiliation. The one thing that allowed me to be strong was the belief that I still had the ability to decide what kind of person I wanted to be. I did not want to be a woman of hatred.”
Betancourt then examines the changing philosophy of the FARC. She says it is a clichéd notion that the “ends justify the means.” To her, the “means shape the end.” In the sixties, the FARC was revolutionary. They strove for basic rights and equality. Over time, they began financing themselves and became drug traffickers. With power FARC has changed the values and minds of people. Betancourt does not believe that any peace agreement can change the situation. The FARC does not want to bring about change and equality. Their priorities, according to Betancourt, are eating well, having toys and attractive women, and most importantly power. The FARC would not accept a negotiation to release the hostages. Nonetheless, the government has a contract to protect its citizens. Instead, “as citizens, we were trophies for the FARC. Until Operation Checkmate, we were hopeless. “
Betancourt believed that the Colombian people forgot that the hostages were people. Instead the public thought, “this is not my family that is being affected” and that the sacrifice of some hostages today would eventually lead to a decline in the number of hostages in the future. Eventually, the public was surprised that the FARC held the hostages for six years. They finally began pressuring the government. Nonetheless, it was Europe and Venezuela that eventually led the Colombian government to take action. The Colombian government allowed Hugo Chavez to create a rescue committee. The government believed that Chavez would fail. However, Chavez used his contacts and successfully released a few hostages. The Colombian and American governments became worried. It soon became a race to see which government could free the hostages first.
Today, Betancourt breathes and embraces her freedom. She does not want to reenter politics. Looking back, she believes that Uribe’s strategy on using the military to target the FARC was realistic. Once she was released she felt as if she was born again and there was nothing left in her soul but love. The world she encountered after she regained her freedom seems different from the world six years ago. She believes that as people we spend too much time presenting ourselves. She feels it is important not to lose contact with ourselves and devote some time to think about emotion, and the honest image we have for ourselves. She states: “I do not know if I have achieved anything. But I do want to be remembered as a loving person.”
PROSPECT had the chance to ask Betancourt a few questions.
PROSPECT: You stated that the FARC is the yin-yang in Colombia. Can you please elaborate on this concept?
IB: I think that the FARC is complementary to the Colombian dominant class because they justify one another. Colombia claims that whatever occurs is a result of the FARC. On the other hand, the FARC justifies its existence with the social crisis that Colombia faces. In reality, neither the FARC nor the elite classes in Colombia want to change Colombia’s social hierarchy. Therefore, the FARC and society need each other, similar to the yin and the yang.
PROSPECT: What were the most difficult experiences and challenges you faced after regaining your freedom?
IB: The biggest challenge was to fight for my true freedom. I struggled to have the basic right to a private life and not having to respond to every comment. Nonetheless, whatever difficult experience I might have had it was only a minor turbulence in perspective of what I have lived in the jungle.
PROSPECT: You stated that Uribe’s policies regarding the FARC were successful. How would Colombia be different if you had won the presidency?
IB: Colombia would not have 4 million displaced people and peasant victims of the warlords. I would never have allowed this to happen.
(Left: Betancourt, pictured with PROSPECT writer Shweta Mukesh)