Ingrid Betancourt

Ingrid Betancourt
Ingrid Betancourt

Íngrid Betancourt in Italy 2008.

In office
July 20 1998 – February 23 2002

Born December 25 1961 (1961-12-25) (age 57)
Bogotá, Colombia
Political party Oxygen Green Party
Spouse Fabrice Delloye (m. 1983, div. 1990)
Juan Carlos Lecompte (m. 1997)

[1]

Children Melanie Delloye, Lorenzo Delloye
Residence Bogotá
Occupation Political scientist, politician
Religion Roman Catholic

Ingrid Betancourt Pulecio (December 25, 1961 - ) is a Colombian politician and one of the most outspoken and daring anti-corruption activists in her nation. She is a former member of both Colombia's Senate and House of Representatives. In the midst of a presidential election campaign, she was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on February 23, 2002. For more than six years, she was held captive in Colombia's jungles until her rescue by government forces on July 2, 2008. Betancourt was released along with 14 other hostages. Her kidnapping received worldwide media coverage, particularly from France due to her dual citizenship.

The daughter of Colombia's former ambassador to the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization and a well-known social activist, Betancourt was raised privileged in France. When she was 29, she made an abrupt turnabout in her life and returned to her native Colombia. From that time, she dedicated her life to freedom from the "violent corruption that's strangled Colombia for decades."

Contents

Following the ordeal suffered as a captive, she returned to activism. Two months after her rescue, she spoke at a conference at the United Nations headquarters in New York City on the plight of terrorist's victims. She received many international awards, including the Légion d'honneur, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 2008, she received the Concord Prince of Austria's Award. She has come to be viewed by many in her nation as Colombia's modern-day "patron saint" and is respected internationally as a courageous and determined woman, willing to sacrifice everything for her country.

Family life and education

Ingrid Betancourt was born December 25, 1961, in Bogota, Colombia. Her mother, Yolanda Pulecio, was a former Miss Colombia who later served in Congress, representing the poor southern neighborhoods of Bogotá and was well-known there for her work in the creation of the Albergue, the first children's shelter in the nation. It is the best-known children's aid organization in the Colombian capital. Her father, Gabriel Betancourt, was a Colombian diplomat, posted to the embassy in Paris where Ingrid spent her early years. Her father had also served as Colombia's Minister of Education, as well as on President John F. Kennedy's Alliance for Progress (HarperCollins Publishers, 2002, 14).

The Betancourt home in Paris was frequently visited by leading Colombian and international personalities and intellectuals—definitely an influence on the young girl. However, she recounts her Portuguese nanny, Anita, as a strong influence that kept her grounded. "Ingrid," she said "you must not forget that the world does not resemble the one you're living in today. Reality is painful, life is difficult, and someday it may be painful and difficult for you too. You must know this and prepare yourself for it" (HarperCollins Publishers, 2002, 18).

When Ingrid was thirteen years old her family returned to Colombia. During this time her Father counseled her, "Colombia has given us a great deal. It's thanks to Colombia that you have come to know Europe, that you've gone to the best schools and lived in a cultural luxury no young Colombian will ever experience. Because you've had so many opportunities, you now have a debt to Colombia. Don't forget that" (HarperCollins Publishers, 2002, 22).

After Ingrid completed high school in Bogota, she returned to France where she attended the Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris (known as Sciences Po), an elite higher education institute. While a student there she met her future husband, Fabrice Delloye, who was a commercial attache at France's Ministry of Foreign Affairs (HarperCollins Publishers, 2002, 34).

Marriage and children

After graduating from Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris, she and Fabrice married. They had two children, Melanie and Lorenzo. Fabrice was in the French diplomatic service, and they lived in various places, including Quito, Ecuador, Seychelle Islands, and Los Angeles, California.

The assassination of Luis Carlos Galán in August 1989, a candidate for the Colombian presidency running on an anti-drug-trafficking platform, impacted Ingrid so much that she returned to her native Colombia determined to do something to help her country. She returned to her country in January 1990, leaving her family in Los Angeles, an environment safer than Colombia at that time. Eventually, Ingrid and Fabrice divorced.

In February 1997, Ingrid wed Juan Carlos Lecompte, a Colombian advertising agent whom she met during her tenure in the House of Representatives.

Public life

In 1990, Ingrid began working in Colombia's Finance Ministry. While there she worked on a number of major issues vital to the health of the people, the environment, and the economy. These included such things as development of the Pacific Coast, pursuing clean water, safe housing and the development of local hospitals. She developed a plan for a tax-free zone which would have eliminated the need for smuggling imported goods. A third project was developing and honoring patents, which would have increased foreign trade, helping the country to rise out of poverty. All of these proposals had been thwarted or undermined when brought to her superiors.

Elected office

She and her friend and coworker, Clara Rojas, eventually came to believe that the way to bring progress for Colombians was not through proposing solutions from a technocratic standpoint, but to gain the power to implement those solutions. Knowing little about politics, they nonetheless decided that was the only answer. Thus, in 1994, she resigned from her post in the Finance Ministry in order to run for a seat in the House of Representatives. As Ingrid explained to their first group of potential backers: "We've been working in the wings of government for three years now. On each of my assignments, I've proposed solutions directed solely toward the interest of the country. However, with few exceptions my proposals have been cut back, diverted, or simply set aside, by the very people we've elected to make such reforms: The politicians! The Colombian people feel powerless when confronted by these corrupt elected officials. I want to show Colombians that it doesn't have to be that way, and that politics can be practiced differently" (HarperCollins Publishers, 2002, 75 & 76).

During her campaign, Ingrid distributed condoms on the street corners of Bogota with the motto that she would be like a condom against corruption. Though a virtual unknown, Ingrid was elected to a seat in the House. She had received great support from the south of Bogotá, thanks partially to the name recognition from her mother, who helped her campaign. During this campaign, Clara Rojas, a lawyer, played a key role through her organizational skills and by training pollsters to detect fraud, which until that time had been rampant.

Ms. Betancourt's first act after her election was to author a detailed Code of Ethics for the Liberal Party. Article by article and chapter by chapter, she placed an emphasis on strict regulations of financing (HarperCollins Publishers, 2002, 93). The response, however, was that Ingrid Betancurt was viewed as a traitor for her efforts at reform.

During her term, a huge ethics scandal erupted involving the president and the majority of elected officials, concerning enormous campaign contributions made by drug cartels. Few were willing to speak out against the corruption, other than Ms. Betancourt.

Protesting a rigged jury for the upcoming trial of the president, (composed of fellow representatives supportive of the president and also under suspicion of accepting tainted money) Ms. Betancourt went on a hunger strike together with Representative Guillermo Martinez Guerra. Her strike continued for two weeks, until she was hospitalized. Initially demoralized by what she viewed as her failure to finish her strike successfully, she eventually realized that her fasting had created a trust of her among the people and a bond that eventually helped her win a Senate seat.

She went on to publicly accuse the president of not only dishonesty but also delinquency, providing proof of financial improprieties, as well as questioning the mysterious deaths of many of those scheduled to testify against him.

A new political party

Frustrated with the corruption of the existing political parties, in 1998 Ingrid Betancourt collected within one month the required 50,000 signatures (a total of 70,000 was actually collected) to form a new political party, Oxygen. The party's motto was "Ingrid is Oxygen" in an effort to convey the concept that Colombian politics needed resuscitation. Despite fraud at some of the polling places, Ms. Betancourt won a seat in the Senate with more votes than any other candidate in the country (HarperCollins Publishers, 2002, 202).

Two months after her election to the Senate, Ingrid and Oxygen backed Andrés Pastrana Arango in his bid for the presidency. Reluctant at first, the backing came only after the signing of a pact that he would introduce an anti-corruption referendum within three months of being elected. Unfortunately, Pastrana did not keep his word.

Pursuit of the presidency

Despite her disappointment in Pastrana, Ingrid moved forward. She decided she could make a bigger impact by running for President of Colombia in the 2002 elections. During her electoral campaign, Ingrid continued her promise to make Colombia a safe and prosperous country.

Ingrid's belief was that peace could not be sought without addressing openly the close ties between drug traffickers, paramilitaries, and guerrillas. She maintained that were drug trafficking to be targeted, the financial supply channeled to corrupted politicians and terrorists would weaken and the perpetuation of violence that had crippled Columbia would be arrested. In this pursuit, in 2002, she drew up three necessary conditions for peace: The The denarcotization of Colombia; the enforcement of human rights laws; and support from the international community.

FARC

Andres Pastrana had opened negotiations with FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Columbia), the main guerrilla group in Colombia. Soon after Pastrana's election to the presidency in 1998, he granted FARC seventeen thousand square miles of national territory to be used as a demilitarized zone. This was done in the name of peace, yet Pastrana did not require any commitment from the guerrillas in return.

FARC continued unabated its kidnapping, military attacks, involvement in the drug trade, intimidation and displacement of the civilian population, and the purchasing of weaponry. Critics considered the DMZ to have been turned into a safe haven in which the FARC imposed its will as law, committing military attacks and acts of terrorism outside the DMZ before withdrawing back into it, in order to avoid direct confrontation with government armed forces.

To demonstrate loyalty to her cause, in February 2002, Ingrid traveled to San Vincente, 600 kilometers (373 miles) south of Bogota, a territory occupied by FARC, who since 1996 had fought against the national government to reign out the power. In spite of the fact that President Pastrana discouraged Ingrid from making this trip and refused to give her an escort, she voiced a moral duty to be present among those people in difficulty.

Unfortunately for Betancourt, this decision cost her dearly. On February 23, 2002, she would be kidnapped by FARC, along with Clara Rojas, her friend and director of her electoral campaign.[2]

The kidnapping

Several Colombian political figures continued to attempt to visit the demilitarized zone even as the peace talks ended. Most candidates for political office that intended to do so backed off when authorities warned them of the danger. Ingrid insisted to be taken to the former DMZ by a military aircraft. President Pastrana and other officials denied this petition arguing that neither they, nor the Colombian Army, could guarantee her safety during the turmoil that would follow the retaking of the DMZ. Additionally, Betancourt was running for president in the 2002 elections; aiding her in such a request meant that the government was rendering its resources to Betancourt's private political interests. Agreeing to Betancourt's request would also mean that the government was either backing a candidate for the presidential elections or that it then had to assist every single candidate in their demands of using official and military resources for their private interests.

On February 23, 2002, when denied transport aboard a military helicopter that was heading to the zone, Senator Betancourt decided to head into the DMZ via ground transport, together with her presidential running-mate Clara Rojas and a handful of political aides. They were stopped at the last military checkpoint before going into the former DMZ. Military officers insisted that she and her party not continue in their effort to reach San Vicente del Caguan, the village used for the peace talks. Intense fighting was taking place inside the DMZ and the security situation was rapidly deteriorating. Betancourt dismissed their warning and continued her journey; ultimately being kidnapped by FARC.

Ever since the days of the Pastrana negotiations, when a limited exchange took place, the FARC have demanded the formalization of a mechanism for prisoner exchange. The mechanism would involve the release of what the FARC termed its "political hostages," though the exchange would not be in equal numbers. For the FARC, most of its non-political hostages, those held for extortion purposes and which would number at least a thousand, would not be considered subject to such an exchange.

The Uribe administration (elected to the presidency in the 2002 elections) initially ruled out any negotiation with the group that would not include a cease-fire, and instead pushed for rescue operations, many of which had traditionally been successful when carried out by the police's GAULA anti-kidnapping group in urban settings, as opposed to the mountains and jungles where the FARC keeps most prisoners.

Relatives of Ingrid and of most of FARC's political hostages strongly rejected any potential rescue operations, in part due to the tragic death of the governor of Antioquia department, Guillermo Gaviria Correo, his peace adviser and several soldiers, kidnapped by the FARC during a peace march in 2003. The governor and the others were shot at close range by the FARC when the government launched an army rescue mission into the jungle which failed as soon as the guerrillas learned of its presence in the area.

Rescue

From the time of Betancourt's kidnapping in February 2002 until her release in July 2008, there had been numerous attempts at negotiations, all of which failed. She was held somewhere in the jungles of Colombia, along with other kidnap victims.

On July 2, 2008, Colombia's Minister of Defense Juan Manuel Santos called a press conference to announce the rescue of Betancourt and 14 other captives. The operation that won their release, codenamed "Jaque" (Spanish for "check" as in checkmate), included members of Colombian military intelligence who infiltrated local FARC squads and the secretariat of FARC, according to Santos.

The rebels in charge of the hostages were tricked into accepting a faked request from headquarters to gather the hostages together, supposedly to be flown to guerrilla commander Alfonso Cano. Instead, they were flown by government personnel dressed as FARC to San José del Guaviare. No one was harmed during the rescue. Three American Northrop Grumman contractors, Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, and Thomas Howes, were among those released.[3]

Military agents had reportedly spent months planting themselves within FARC, gaining the rebels' trust, and joining the rebels' leadership council. Other agents were assigned to guard the hostages. Using their authority in the group, the agents ordered the captives moved from three different locations to a central area. From this point, the hostages, agents, and about 60 real rebels made a 90-mile march through the jungle to a spot where, agents told their unsuspecting comrades, an "international mission" was coming to check on the hostages. On schedule, an unmarked white helicopter set down and Colombian security forces posing as FARC rebels jumped out. They told the rebels that they would take the hostages to the meeting with the "international mission." All of the captives were handcuffed and placed aboard the helicopter, along with two of their FARC guards, who were quickly disarmed and subdued after the helicopter lifted off. According to Betancourt, a crew member then turned and told the 15 hostages, "We are the national military. You are free."[4]

Claim that rescue was miraculous

The hostages indicated that they had spent much time in captivity praying the rosary, and Ms. Betancourt, raised in the Catholic faith, prayed daily on a wooden rosary which she made in captivity. Many Colombians view the Rosary as the "secret weapon" that secured the safe rescue of the hostages.[5]

On July 21, 2008, Ms. Betancourt and her family made a pilgrimage to Lourdes to give thanks and to pray for her captors and those who remained hostage. The following month, August 2008, Betancourt and her family were received by His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI in a private 20-minute audience.

Post-release

Ingrid Betancourt reunited with her children and family in France following her release. In September 2008, she traveled to the United States to present the keynote address at a United Nations conference on the plight of victims of terrorism, calling for a centralized database to catalogue and publicize victims' needs.[6]

The liberated Betancourt did not hesitate to give thanks to the Colombian armed forces and to President Álvaro Uribe, giving her approval to his third term as a president, even though her mother criticized him severely throughout the hostage ordeal. She urged neighboring presidents Hugo Chavez (Venezuela) and Rafael Correa (Ecuador) to assist Colombia in seeking political transformation by democratic means.

She stated that she will now dedicate herself to informing the world about the reality of FARC and their cruel hostage-taking policy. It has been recognized that the long and public captivity of Betancourt and her subsequent liberation have caused a dramatic change of the political scene.

Betancourt has not ruled out a return to the Colombian political scene. While she has said that "France is my home," she also "is proud to be Colombian." When asked of her future plans, she stated "I continue to aspire to serve Colombia as president."[6]Her six-year ordeal has not diminished her resolve to serve her people.

Writing

Ingrid Betancourt is known as a powerful and impassioned speaker. As well, she has written several books:

  • Si Sabia (Yes, He Did Know) published in December 1996 in Columbia. Fearing that Colombia's history would be rewritten, as is often the case in totalitarian regimes, Ms. Betancourt penned this book as a mission to the truth of this era of history being preserved.
  • Until Death do us Part; My Struggle to Reclaim Columbia. Published in the United States in 2002, this was a memoir initially published in France, under the title La rage au coeur ("Rage in the Heart"). It has since appeared in Spanish, in Colombia and elsewhere, as La rabia en el corazón.

Notes

  1. BBC News, Profile: Ingrid Betancourt. Retrieved October 20, 2008.
  2. Vida Libertad, Ingrid Betancourt. Retrieved October 20, 2008.
  3. Simon Romero, Colombia Plucks Hostages from Rebels' Grasp, New York Times. Retrieved October 20, 2008.
  4. Cable Network News, July 3, 2008, Old-fashioned fake-out results in freedom for hostages. Retrieved October 20, 2008.
  5. Catholic News Agency, July 9, 2008, Rosary plays important role in hostage rescue in Colombia. Retrieved October 20, 2008.
  6. 6.0 6.1 Maureen Macleod, October 2008, Kidnapping a Candidate: Ingrid Betancourt’s Six-Year Ordeal, International Museum of Women. Retrieved October 20, 2008.

References

  • Betancourt, Ingrid. 2002. Until Death do us Part, My Struggle to Reclaim Colombia. New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers. ISBN 0060008903.
  • Betancourt, Ingrid, Lorenzo Delloye-Betancourt, and Mélanie Delloye-Betancourt. 2008. Letters to my Mother: A Message of Love, a Plea for Freedom. New York: Stewart, Tabori & Chang. ISBN 0810971275.
  • Miller, John, and Kirsten Miller. 2004. Legends 2: Women who Have Changed the World Through the Eyes of Great Women Writers. Novato, CA: New World Library. ISBN 9781577314394.

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