Ingrid Betancourt was one of the most high profile political prisoners in the world during her captivity in the Colombian Jungle at the hands of the FARC-EP, Colombia’s left wing communist guerrillas. A brutal civil war has raged for the best part of 60 years in this Southern hemisphere country. The rural FARC occupy the West of the country and fight against a government that is propped up by US military aid and this Cold War-esque struggle has raged for decades. Most of the information we gather in the international press regarding the conflict tends to be heavily biased and actually obtaining real information about the FARC and their ideologies is very difficult and suppressed. This book, is a rarity, in that it offers an insight into the Guerrilla aspect of the struggle. It does this perhaps inadvertently and perhaps against the intentions of the author who perhaps expects the reader to be overly sympathetic to what was indeed for her a terrible ordeal and a life changing one.
Betancourt was born into a political family and was a member of Colombia’s elite. She is a dual national and it is her French nationality that really projected her plight to the international world. The French government were very active in campaigning for her release.
The manner in which Betancourt was captured by the FARC, I feel, needs to be questioned more thoroughly. To me it seems as though due to the scanty provision of security by the government as she conducted politics in or on the fringes of the FARC held sone, I think that perhaps the forces that be within the government might have deliberately pawned her as a political captive. It just didn’t add up how easily she was initially kidnapped and the government were certainly somewhat responsible.
She was taken off to the jungle and for the next 6 years spent her life on the move darting between various military camps, evading capture from the authorities and evading death from the ongoing violent conflict between the insurgent guerrillas and government armed forces. One of the highlights of the book to me was the way in which we learn about the ways of the FARC. From day-to-day activities to the political organisation of the armed units. to relationships with their leaders and the discourse between authorities and the way in which the captives had access to international and national media via radios. The vocabulary of the FARC is explored and a word which rang in my ears and that we hear a lot of is ‘chontos’ which are the makeshift jungle lavatories. To me the captivity seemed like a bit of an adventure. On the whole, within the camps Betancourt had relative freedom and was allowed such luxuries as a dictionary and to regularly listen to messages from her family on the radio. Life was harsh and the camps were very disciplined. It was made clear to our protagonist that she would die if necessary from a bullet at any stage, in particular if she resisted her orders when marching between camps. AT various points her captivity became more intense and she was rather inhumanely treated like a prisoner – I felt sorry hearing about when some of her privileges were removed but underpinning the whole period of her captivity were the FARC’s precautions in maintaining her as a high profile hostage without letting down their military guard. Hostages are an unpleasant but consistent feature of war throughout history. IT may be brutal as the taking of hostages is often just down to bad luck and they are innocents but equally they can be powerful bargaining tools particularly in the nature of this conflict where the FARC were primarily a weaker military force and they needed to make critical decisions and tough ones in order to withstand the onslaught from government backed forces supported very heavily by hi-tech US aid. The leadership of FARC availed themselves to Betancourt and I think she was very respected for her integrity by these senior military figures. The ending of the story is a happy one for Betancourt as the FARC inadvertently let down their guard and allow for her to be rescued. She is reunited with her family although her father has passed away during her time as a hostage. I think that she may have very strong elements of Stockholm syndrome and it would be interesting to hear her long term views on the whole situation and the political aspects of the Colombian Civil War. I think that her use as a hostage had its merits as it may have ultimately sped up the conclusion and end of the overall conflict as the FARC have now on the whole laid down their weapons and we are almost at the point of a genuine lasting peace. The book is a wonderfully told tale and it provokes a lot of thought and is a very worthy read, whatever your expectations are in approaching it.