Betancourt Prepares Her Book Outside Colombia a Year after Her Rescue

By Dialogo
July 02, 2009

Bogotá, July 1 (EFE).- A year after being rescued by the army, former presidential candidate and former FARC hostage Ingrid Betancourt lives outside Colombia. She is in the middle of a divorce, and is finishing a book that everyone predicts will be a best-seller. After six years as a hostage, Betancourt was freed on 2 July, 2008 during an undercover military operation known as “Operation Jaque” together with Americans Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, and Tom Howes, as well as eleven Colombian police and military personnel, some of whom spent more than ten years captive in the jungle. In an operation that is considered almost a masterpiece of military intelligence and that took place a year ago tomorrow, a group of uniformed personnel passed themselves off as humanitarian aid workers and freed the fifteen hostages without firing a shot. “Thank you to the army of my country, Colombia, thank you for the impeccable operation; the operation was perfect,” were the first words of the former hostage when she arrived, free, in Bogotá that day. Betancourt, who was the most valuable hostage held by the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was kidnapped on 23 February 2002 in the jungle department of Caquetá while campaigning for that year’s elections, two days after the breakdown of peace negotiations between the administration of then President Andrés Pastrana and the guerilla group. Both her friends and her critics acknowledge that her kidnapping took place in the context of what was almost a provocation, given that the civil and military authorities had recommended that she not go near the region dominated by the guerrillas at a moment of such tension. But her rebellious personality did not allow her to listen to this advice, and she was taken hostage together with her running mate, then-vice-presidential candidate Clara Rojas. She kept up this kind of “insolence” during her years of captivity, as her fellow kidnapping victims have recalled in various books published since their liberation. The most severe critics have been Americans Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, and Thomas Howes, who in their book “Out of Captivity” tell the story of how Ingrid protested when they arrived at the camp at which they met her for the first time because, in her view, this meant sharing the limited space available to the hostages. The Pentagon contractors, captured in 2003 when their airplane crashed in the jungle during an operation in search of FARC cocaine laboratories, recount that Betancourt accused them in front of their kidnappers of belonging to the CIA, placing them in serious danger. The Americans label Betancourt “selfish and lacking solidarity” when it came time to share food, clothing, radios, and books, essential items in the jungle that enabled them to survive better in that hell. Clara Rojas, although she has been discreet, has acknowledged that her relationship with Ingrid deteriorated because “she did not behave like a friend.” One of Betancourt’s unconditional supporters is former senator Luis Eladio Pérez, with whom she appears to have maintained a romantic relationship while kidnapped, according to the Americans’ account in their book. Another supporter is Sgt. William Pérez, a nurse who took care of Ingrid during her most difficult moments and who continues to correspond with her on a weekly basis, as he indicated to EFE. Once freed, Betancourt traveled to Paris, where she was reunited with her children, and where she has filed for divorce from publicist Juan Carlos Lecompte, her second husband, whom she married in Polynesia in 1997. Ingrid petitioned for divorce alleging “de facto separation” for years, while it seems that Lecompte feels offended by the “ingratitude” shown by his wife, according to a report published last week in Caras magazine . Following her rescue, the former presidential candidate traveled to various countries, and she was received by Latin American and European leaders, even the Pope, and was awarded several prizes, among them the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord , due to her “dignity” and “courage.” She was even a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, after being named “Woman of the Year 2008” by the organization Women's World Award, sponsored by former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev. In Colombia, these awards have been met with ill-will in some sectors, as many former hostages and members of civil society believe that Betancourt is no more deserving than other former kidnapping victims who continue to work for peace away from the spotlight. At present, Ingrid divides her time between Paris and New York, makes few public appearances, and is concentrating on writing her dramatic story, a book that even before reaching bookstores, it is destined to become a best-seller.