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Freed Franco-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt is seen during an interview with Reuters in Paris July 8, 2008. (JACKY NAEGELEN/Reuters)
Freed Franco-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt is seen during an interview with Reuters in Paris July 8, 2008. (JACKY NAEGELEN/Reuters)

Newsmaker interview

Ingrid Betancourt on how Colombia can achieve a lasting peace Add to ...

It’s the position of a generation and it has to be a consensus decision and when this happens then it become an emotional reality ... and all those things are so horrible – rape, murder – then the victim can see the enemy as a human. It takes a lot of courage.


Do you look at efforts other countries have made to reconcile a turbulent past?

Yes I do. First for example, one of the countries that I admire, with different situation but in a way the same human kind of path, is South Africa. It’s a country where there are similar things, the violence of the conflict, the years, the system itself that was constructed for and by violence.

There are other experiences in South America that are important, for example in El Salvador and in Guatemala because they have been able to construct some kind of institutional framework to allow the reconstruction of historical facts, thus bringing the truth to the families of the victims and enabling them to mourn and accept personal and national reconciliation.

Argentina, in a different way, it’s been developing an incredible system of trying to find the corpses of the victims during the dictatorship, when a whole generation had disappeared and the crimes denied.

In Colombia, we have denial, we have the difficulty of recovering the corpses, the difficulty of memory, reconstructing a collective memory. We need to have a record of what happened so the family of victims can do their mourning and face what happened. You need details of the crimes.

What happens if you’re in a system that lies to you [is] you cannot rest. You only can rest when have the truth, even when it’s horrible.


What do you think caused the FARC to lose its way?

The FARC lost sight in 1980s when drugs became so important after the disappearance of support from the Soviet Union. The FARC had been trained by the Soviets and the link they had was very strong. Once that financial support disappeared, the way they made their way through that economic crisis was cocaine trafficking. But what happened, once they went down that path, many people from the Mafia came to join them ... guys had influence and some became commanders very quickly. When I was abducted I met some of those commanders, it was clear to me, between 2002 and 2008, I always thought the FARC was turning into a drug cartel.Their revolutionary side had slowly disappeared. That explains also why military grounds became less effective – they were concentrating on making money.

And for having a fight like that, you need to have a fire inside of you. If you don’t have that, if you’re [unsure of why you are] sacrificing yourself, you can’t go forward.


Many indications show life, on the whole, is getting better in Latin America – most countries are more stable, their economies are growing, creating jobs. Would you agree?

By some counts are getting better, but Latin America as a whole has lost the opportunity of becoming a serious actor on the international stage. We’ve been losing our personality in a way, with the great exceptions of Brazil, Argentina and Mexico. And there’s too much division between the countries in the region and I think it’s an identity fight in a way. Brazil is doing great, they have a great personality as a nation, they are struggling to protect their identity and heritage. They have an independent policy and they have the size.

Other countries could have a very important role to play, but it’s difficult to maintain the compass in world-wide issues. They don’t have a strong [global] voice.


Talk about listening to Canadian radio while you were in the middle of the Colombian jungle.

I had been given a small radio and it was the first time I had a radio in my hands. The reception was bad, you couldn’t plan what to get. I remember it before the night came, around 4 p.m., I was playing with the radio, and suddenly it was like an antennae to the world. I was very, very happy. I lived in Canada [Montreal] for six months when I was 18. So it was incredible. Suddenly when I was listening to this, in my corner, trying to make the reception better, suddenly I heard my name Ingrid Betancourt, it was like a shock. They said some hostages in Colombia who had been abducted by the FARC had been killed. I learned that afternoon that two of my friends who were kidnapped six months after me had died.


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