Former FARC Captive Hopes to Become First Female Colombian President

Associated Press/Ivan Valencia

By Gabriela Dubrocq, 2L

In 2002, during presidential elections, left-wing rebels kidnapped Ingrid Betancourt, a former Colombian senator, and held her hostage for over six years. Betancourt was held in jungle prison camps after taking her presidential campaign into rebel-held territory dominated by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. During the following six years, Betancourt endured forced marches while chained by the neck to other FARC prisoners. Betancourt survived not only food shortages but also malaria. She also tried to escape three times. During one attempt, she swam down rivers and hiked through the rainforest for six days before she was recaptured. Along with three kidnapped U.S. military contractors, she was finally rescued by Colombian special forces in 2008. Betancourt stated about her captivity: “It was a world where barbarity was all around us.”

In 1998, Betancourt founded the Green Oxygen Party, obtaining over 160,000 votes which secured her two seats in the Senate. Three years later, Betancourt resigned from Congress, saying that it was a “rat’s nest” and announced her candidacy for the presidency. However, Betancourt and her campaign manager, Clara Rojas, were kidnapped by the FARC on their way to San Vicente del Caguán, a rebel-controlled area, where peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas ended abruptly. After recovering her freedom, Betancourt spent most of her time in France and partnered with Head Talks founder Oliver Chittenden, often speaking about her experience to audiences, including the London’s high-gloss Arts Club in Mayfair. In 2016, in the wake of the Trump election, Betancourt state: “When I came back from captivity, I didn’t want to have anything to do with politics. I thought I didn’t have the strength anymore to be in this kind of combative mood. But today I feel that I am stronger, and I look at what’s happening, and I want to participate. I want to be a part of the solution. I try to speak out my mind in rallies and things like this. I am very much engaged in human rights deference.”

Today, 20 years after her kidnapping, Betancourt is campaigning again for the Colombian presidency. Betancourt has pledged to tackle corruption and poverty if she wins May’s poll. She told her supporters: “Today I am here to finish what I started. I am here to claim the rights of 51 million Colombians who are not finding justice, because we live in a system designed to reward criminals.” Despite Betancourt’s efforts, polls show that former Bogotá Mayor, Gustavo Petro, is currently leading the presidential race. If Betancourt wins the elections, she will become the first female president in Colombia history.

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