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Ingrid Betancourt (born 25 December 1961) is a Colombian-French politician, former senator, anti-corruption activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee.
Betancourt was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on 23 February 2002 and was rescued by Colombian security forces six and a half years later on 2 July 2008. The rescue operation, dubbed Operation Jaque, rescued Betancourt along with 14 other hostages (three Americans and 11 Colombian policemen and soldiers). In all, she was held captive for 2,321 days after being taken while campaigning for the Colombian presidency as a Green. She had decided to campaign in rebel controlled areas despite warnings from the government, police and military not to do so. Her kidnapping received worldwide coverage, particularly in France, because of her dual French citizenship. She has received multiple international awards, such as the Légion d’honneur. In 2008 she received the Concord Prince of Asturias Award.
Betancourt was born in Bogotá, Colombia. Her mother, Yolanda Pulecio, is a former beauty queen who later served in Congress representing poor southern neighborhoods of Bogotá. Her father, Gabriel Betancourt, was minister for the General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla dictatorship (1953–1957), the assistant director of the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, then ambassador of Colombia to UNESCO in Paris, and head of the education commission of the Alliance for Progress in Washington, D.C. under John F. Kennedy. The Betancourt family is one of Colombia’s oldest oligarchic families, descended from French Norman immigrants who arrived from Grainville-la-Teinturière three centuries before.
After attending private school in France, a boarding school in England as well as the Liceo Francés in Bogotá, Betancourt attended the Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris (commonly known as Sciences Po).
Íngrid Betancourt launched her presidential campaign on May 20, 2001 next to a statue of Simon Bolivar in Bogotá. She then began a campaign bus trip around the country to attend local community meetings.
As part of her campaign for the presidency in 2002 Betancourt decided to go to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) in the town of San Vicente del Caguán to meet with the FARC. This was not unusual—many public figures took the opportunity afforded by the DMZ to meet with the FARC as part of the negotiation process. At the time she decided to go, the Colombian Army suggested her not to go, since they would be unable to provide protection, due to hostility in the area after the DMZ had been militarized again. They made her sign a document that said just that, which she immediately signed. The election was eventually won by Álvaro Uribe, who never attended such meetings after having received threats from the rebel group.
The peace talks reached an impasse dead after more than three years of negotiations. From the beginning, the FARC would not agree to a truce for the duration of the negotiations, nor that the peace talks be overseen by different representatives of the international community. Though the DMZ was purported to be a "laboratory for peace", in practice the FARC continued its kidnapping activities, military attacks, purchasing of weapons, and even building roads and airstrips for trafficking narcotics. Critics considered the DMZ to have been turned into a safe haven in which the FARC imposed its will as law launching military attacks and acts of terrorism outside the DMZ before withdrawing back to it, in order to avoid direct confrontation with government armed forces. Also during this time, hundreds of civilians were kidnapped throughout different cities and rural areas of the country. They were then transported back to the DMZ where they were kept in cages, many of them having been kidnapped for economic extortion, others for "political reasons". By the end of 2001 the Colombian government and public opinion (according to different polls) were growing impatient and discouraged at the situation.
In February 2002, a turboprop plane flying from Florencia to Bogotá—a distance of some 1000 km (600 miles)—was hijacked in midair by FARC members. The plane was forced to land on a highway strip near the city of Neiva and then a member of the Colombian Congress was kidnapped. As a consequence, President Andrés Pastrana canceled the talks with the FARC and revoked the DMZ, arguing that the FARC had betrayed the terms of the negotiation and had used the DMZ to grow stronger in military and logistical capabilities. In a televised statement, the president expressed the government’s intention of retaking the DMZ, informing that the military operation would begin at midnight, and also urged the FARC to respect the lives and the livelihood of those civilians still present in the DMZ.
Most candidates for political office that intended to do so backed off when authorities warned them of the danger. Ingrid Betancourt, as another one of these candidates, insisted on being taken to the former DMZ by a military aircraft. President Pastrana and other officials turned down 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 would have meant that the government was rendering its resources to Betancourt’s private political interests, as well as that the government was either backing a candidate for the presidential elections or, alternatively, that it then had to assist every single candidate in their demands of using official and military resources for their private interests.
When denied transport aboard this military helicopter that was heading to the zone, she decided to head into the DMZ via ground transport, together with Clara Rojas, her campaign manager who was later named running-mate for the 2002 election, and a handful of political aides. On 23 February 2002, she was stopped at the last military checkpoint before going into the former DMZ. Military officers insisted that Betancourt and her party not continue in their effort to reach San Vicente del Caguan, the village used for the peace talks. San Vicente’s mayor was the only Oxigeno elected official in the entire country by then. Intense fighting was taking place inside the DMZ and the security situation was rapidly deteriorating. Betancourt dismissed their warnings and she continued her journey. According to her kidnapper, the later captured Nolberto Uni Vega, Betancourt ended up at a FARC checkpoint where she was captured. Her kidnap was never planned beforehand, said the rebel. Ingrid still appeared on the ballot for the presidential elections; her husband promised to continue her campaign. In the end, she achieved less than 1% of the votes.
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 terms as its "political hostages", currently numbering 28, in exchange for most jailed guerrillas, numbering about 500. For the FARC, most of its other hostages, those held for extortion purposes and which would number at least a thousand, would not be considered subject to such an exchange, as of yet.
The newly elected Uribe administration initially ruled out any negotiation with the group that would not include a ceasefire, and instead pushed for rescue operations, many of which have 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), according to official statistics and mainstream news reports.
However, relatives of Ingrid and of most of FARC’s political hostages came to strongly reject any potential rescue operations, in part due to the tragic death of the governor of the Antioquia department, Guillermo Gaviria, his peace advisor 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.
A day after Betancourt’s kidnapping several non government organizations (NGO) under the lead of Armand Burguet were organized in the European Union and around the world to establish an association or committee for the liberation of Íngrid Betancourt. The committee initially consisted of some 280 activists in 39 countries.
One month after her kidnapping, her father Gabriel died of heart and respiratory trouble.
In July 2003 Opération 14 juillet was launched, which both failed to liberate Betancourt and caused a scandal for the French government. A video of Betancourt was released by FARC in August 2003.
In August 2004, after several false-starts and in the face of mounting pressure from relatives, former Liberal presidents Alfonso López Michelsen especially and also Ernesto Samper (whom Ingrid had criticized) backed in favor of a humanitarian exchange, the Uribe government seemed to have gradually relaxed its position, announcing that it has given the FARC a formal proposal on 23 July, in which it offers to free 50 to 60 jailed rebels in exchange for the political and military hostages held by the left-wing FARC group (not including economic hostages as well, as the government had earlier demanded).
The government would make the first move, releasing insurgents charged or condemned for rebellion and either allowing them to leave the country or to stay and join the state’s reinsertion program, and then the FARC would release the hostages in its possession, including Íngrid Betancourt. The proposal would have been carried out with the backing and support of the French and Swiss governments, which publicly supported it once it was revealed.
The move was signaled as potentially positive by several relatives of the victims and Colombian political figures. Some critics of the president have considered that Uribe may seek to gain political prestige from such a move, though they would agree with the project in practice.
The FARC released a communiqué, dated 20 August but apparently published publicly only on 22 August, in which they denied having received the proposal earlier through the mediation of Switzerland (as the government had stated) and, while making note of the fact that a proposal had been made by Uribe’s administration and that it hoped that common ground could eventually be reached, criticized it because they believe that any deal should allow them to decide how many of its jailed comrades should be freed and that they should return to the rebel ranks.
On 5 September, what has been considered as a sort of FARC counter proposal was revealed in the Colombian press. The FARC-EP is proposing that the government declare a "security" or "guarantee" zone for 72 hours in order for official insurgent and state negotiators to meet face to face and directly discuss a prisoner exchange. Government military forces would not have to leave the area but to concentrate in their available garrisons, in a similar move to that agreed by the Ernesto Samper administration (1994–1998) which involved the group freeing some captured security forces. In addition, the government’s peace commissioner would have to make an official public pronouncement regarding this proposal.
If the zone were created, the first day would be used for traveling to the chosen location, the second to discuss the matter, and the third for the guerrillas to abandon the area. The government would be able to chose as the location for the "security zone" among one of the municipalities of Peñas Coloradas, El Rosal or La Tuna, all in Caquetá department, where the FARC had influence. It was speculated by retired military analysts that the FARC could potentially set up land mines or other traps around local military garrisons while the zone is in place.
The FARC proposal to arrange a meeting with the government was considered as positive by Yolanda Pulecio, Íngrid’s mother, who called it a sign of "progress…just as the (government) commissioner can meet with (right-wing) paramilitaries, why can’t he meet with the others, who are just as terrorist as they are."
In February 2006, France urged the FARC to seize the chance offered by a European-proposed prisoner swap, accepted by Bogotá, and free dozens it had held for up to seven years. Foreign Minister Philippe Douste-Blazy said it was "up to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to show they were serious about releasing former Colombian presidential candidate Íngrid Betancourt and other detainees".
In an interview with French newspaper L’Humanité in June 2006, Raul Reyes, a leader of the FARC, said that Betancourt "is doing well, within the environment she finds herself in. It’s not easy when one is deprived of freedom."
In May 2007, a kidnapped Colombian National Police sub-intendant Jhon Frank Pinchao managed to escape from FARC captivity, claiming that Betancourt was being held in the same prison camp he had been in. He also reported seeing Clara Rojas, who had given birth to a son (Emmanuel), while in captivity.
On 18 May, President Álvaro Uribe reiterated his orders for the rescue by military means of Íngrid and other political figures. This happened after he interviewed a police officer captured by the FARC who ran away and told his story saying many of the prisoners were sick.
Shortly after taking office in mid-May, French President Nicolas Sarkozy asked Uribe to release FARC’s "chancellor" Rodrigo Granda in exchange for Betancourt.
On 4 June, 30 incarcerated members from the FARC were liberated as a goodwill gesture by the government to pursue the liberation of Betancourt and others. However this did not result in her freedom.
On 26 July 2007 Melanie Delloye, Ingrid Betancourt’s daughter, reported two French diplomats had been unsuccessful in confirming that Íngrid Betancourt was still alive according to news agency EFE. President Sarkozy affirmed this to the press. However former hostage Jhon Frank Pinchao (see above) repeated that Betancourt was alive, and had attempted to escape several times from the FARC camp where both were held, but had been recaptured and "severely punished".
In August 2007, reporter Patricia Poleo, a Venezuelan national exiled in the United States, stated that Ingrid Betancourt was being held in Venezuela and that her release was near. The government of Colombia expressed doubts about this information through its minister of foreign affairs Fernando Araújo. Poleo also criticized Hugo Chávez for using this situation to improve relations with France after an impasse with the government of Jacques Chirac in which they refused to sell arms to Venezuela. A few days after Poleo’s statements, President Chávez openly offered his services to negotiate between the FARC and the government in an effort to release those kidnapped, but denied knowing about the whereabouts of Betancourt.
On 11 November 2007, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela told French newspaper Le Figaro that he hoped to be able to show Sarkozy proof before their meeting on 20 November that Betancourt was alive, while on 18 November Chávez announced to the French press that he had been told by a FARC leader that she was still alive.
November 2007 FARC video and letter
On 30 November 2007, the Colombian government released information that they had captured three members of the urban cells of the FARC in Bogotá who had with them videos and letters of people held hostage by the FARC, including Betancourt. In the video Betancourt appears in the jungle sitting on a bench looking at the ground. She "appeared extremely gaunt". A letter intended for Íngrid’s mother, Yolanda, which was found at the same time, was also published in several newspapers.
In 2008, Chávez, with the initial permission of the Colombian government and the participation of the International Red Cross, organized humanitarian operations in order to receive several civilian hostages whose release had been announced by FARC. The first, so-called Operation Emmanuel, named in honor of Clara Rojas’ son, initially failed but later led to the release of Clara Rojas and Consuelo González. Emmanuel was rescued previously after a stunning declaration from president Uribe, where it was discovered the infant was left in a foster home after being severely mistreated by the guerrillas.
On 27 February 2008, a second operation was carried out, freeing four former members of the Colombian Congress. The released hostages were very concerned about the health of Ingrid Betancourt. One described her as "exhausted physically and in her morale … Íngrid is mistreated very badly, they have vented their anger on her, they have her chained up in inhumane conditions." Another said that she has Hepatitis B and is "near the end". Nicolas Sarkozy said he is prepared to personally go to accept her release if necessary.
On 27 March, the Colombian government, with President Uribe’s support, offered to free hundreds of guerrilla fighters in exchange for Betancourt’s release.
On 31 March, Colombian news station Caracol quotes several sources saying Betancourt has stopped taking her medication and stopped eating. She was said to be in desperate need of a blood transfusion.
On 2 April, Betancourt’s son, Lorenzo Delloye, addressed the FARC and the President, Álvaro Uribe, to facilitate the freeing of Íngrid in order to prevent her death. He quoted the need for a blood transfusion in order to keep her alive and its urgency, saying that otherwise she may die in the next few hours.
On 3 April, an envoy left for Colombia to try to make contact with Betancourt and many of the other captives, who have become ill after years of captivity in the jungle. After two days, the envoy, including a doctor, still hadn’t heard from the FARC, but received orders from the French government to wait. Five days after arrival of the envoy the FARC released a press note on the Bolivarian Press Agency website, refusing the mission access to their hostages, because "the French medical mission was not appropriate and, moreover, was not the result of an agreement." Following the rebels’ refusal, the French government called off the humanitarian mission and said Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner would visit the region.
On 2 July 2008, news reports stated that Ingrid Betancourt and three American hostages were recovered. Altogether, 15 hostages were freed, among them 11 Colombian soldiers. Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos said all the former hostages were in reasonably good health, although Betancourt indicated that she was tortured during her captivity.
In a book titled Out of Captivity, written by American Northrop Grumman contractors, Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, and Thomas Howes and published in February 2009, they described Betancourt’s behavior as selfish, feeling she deserved more than other captors due to her political and social standing. Keith described her as the "most disgusting woman he’d ever met" due to her selfishness which caused resentment among her fellow prisoners, according to a 20/20 interview aired 2/27/2009. The American contractors said Betancourt would take and demand more food because of her political and social status but they wouldn’t tolerate her actions.
On 2 July 2008, 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 the Colombian military intelligence who infiltrated local FARC squads and the secretariat of FARC, according to Santos. The rebels in charge of the hostages were duped 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.
Military agents 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." Israeli tracking technology was used by the rescuers to zero in on their target.
On 16 July 2008 it became public that one of the Colombian officials was misusing a Red Cross emblem during the rescue operation.
President Uribe stated that the rescue operation “was guided in every way by the light of the Holy Spirit, the protection of our Lord and the Virgin Mary.” The hostages indicated that they had spent much time in captivity praying the rosary, and Ms. Betancourt, formerly a lapsed Catholic who prayed daily on a wooden rosary which she made while a hostage, attributed the rescue as follows: “I am convinced this is a miracle of the Virgin Mary. To me it is clear she has had a hand in all of this.”
On 21 July 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.
In August 2008, Betancourt and her family were received by Pope Benedict XVI in a brief audience.
The liberated Betancourt didn’t hesitate to give thanks to the Colombian armed forces and to President Álvaro Uribe and even gave her approval to his third term as a president, even though her mother criticized him severely all along. She urged neighbouring presidents Hugo Chavez (Venezuela) and Correa (Ecuador) to help Colombia and rather seek the political transformations in her country by democratic means. And she stated that she will dedicate herself now to teaching the world about the reality of the FARC and their cruel hostage taking policy. It has been recognized that the liberation of Betancourt caused a dramatic change of the political scene.
In an interview on French radio shortly after her return to France, Betancourt distanced herself from Uribe’s approach, while accepting that his security policy had been successful. She said the situation was at a point where "the vocabulary has to change" arguing that "the way in which we talk about the other side is very important."
She has not ruled out a return to the Colombian political scene. In fact while she has said that "France is my home" she also was "proud to be Colombian" said hopes to serve her nation in the future. She has not ruled out a future presidential campaign.
Sarkozy sent a French Air Force jet with Betancourt’s children, her sister Astrid and her family, and accompanied by Foreign Minister Bernard Kouchner for a tearful reunion. After paying her respects at her father’s tomb she and the family boarded the jet and flew to France where she was greeted by Sarkozy and the First Lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy. She gave speeches and urged the world not to forget and continue for the liberation of the rest of the hostages. She also spent several days in hospital.
On July 9, President Michelle Bachelet of Chile said she would nominate Betancourt for a Nobel Prize. Sarkozy announced that she would receive the Legion of Honor at the Bastille Day celebrations.
On July 20, Betancourt appeared next to singer Juanes at a rally in Trocadero in Paris to celebrate Colombia’s independence day and to once more urge the FARC to release all their hostages. Speaking directly to Alfonso Cano she said:
See this Colombia, see the extended hand of President Uribe, and understand that it is time to stop the bloodshed. It is time to drop those weapons and change them for roses, substitute them with tolerance, respect, and as brothers that we are, find a way so that we can all live together in the world, live together in Colombia.”
On 4 July 2008, Radio Suisse Romande reported that unnamed "reliable sources" had told it the rescue took place after a payment of USD 20 million by the United States. According to Le Monde, the French Foreign Ministry denied the payment of any ransom by France.
Frederich Blassel, the author of the Radio Suisse Romande story, told Colombia’s W Radio that, according to his source, the release wasn’t negotiated directly with FARC but with alias César, one of the two guerrillas captured during the operation, who would have received the payment of USD 20 million. According to Blassel, the two rebels could be given new identities by Spain, France and Switzerland.
The Minister of Defense Juan Manuel Santos, and Vice President Francisco Santos, in response to these claims, denied any payment. "That information is absolutely false. It has no basis. We don’t know where it comes from and why its being said". He also added with a touch of irony that "Actually, it would have been a cheap offer, because we were willing to give up to USD 100 million…" "We would be the first to inform publicly, because it is part of our rewards system policy, and besides, it would speak much worse about the FARC".
According to Colombia’s El Tiempo and W Radio, General Fredy Padilla de León, Commander of the Colombian Armed Forces, denied the existence of any payment by the Colombian government. General Padilla argued that if any payment had been made, it would have been better to make it publicly known, to use it as an incentive and to cause confusion within FARC’s ranks.
(Text’s source: Wikipedia)
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