Ingrid Betancourt: “The guerrilla kidnapped me, but corruption has kidnapped Colombians”
“Depending on the day, there are times when I can talk calmly about the subject, and others when it is very painful (…). But I still do not understand how the FARC guerrillas were able to chain a human being to a tree for ten years with the idea that this is ideologically valid”, told LA NACION the brand new Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who has just run this week for the elections of the May 29.
In February 2002, when she was 40 years old and the mother of two teenagers aged 13 and 16, also then a presidential candidate, was on a campaign tour through the Colombian jungle when she was captured by the FARC. The guerrillas kept her in the jungle for six years in inhumane conditions, often chained to trees., and there he met other prisoners who were held by the FARC for up to ten years. She was rescued in an exemplary operation in 2008, in which no one was killed. Eight years later he supported the peace agreement with the guerrillas, but did not go to the signing of the treaty. “I was not in an emotional condition to attend”he explained.
In his dialogue with LA NACION via zoom from Bogotá, Betancourt, leader of the Oxygen Green Party, put two axes for his eventual government management, the ecological issue: “We want to be the first green country in Latin America”, and the fight against corruption: “In daily life, all Colombians are kidnapped by this system of corruption (…). We have to free society from the ‘kidnapping’ of corruption”, he pointed.
As a leader of the center, highly respected in the Colombian political sphere, her candidacy shook the panorama in the face of the May elections, where until now the polls showed a clear leadership of the left-wing candidate Gustavo Petro.
-Because of your French citizenship these years you were residing between Paris and the United States, where your children live, what led you to return and run for the presidency again like two decades ago?
-I have had to face so many personal and family difficulties and obstacles to return, that the decision to return is a declaration of love for my country. It is an abrupt change in my life and the only explanation for that is love.
-How has Colombia changed from 2002 to the present?
-The peace process and the pandemic changed the way Colombians see themselves. We had a country that had gotten used to living with a system of corruption. But with the pandemic, a large part of the middle class population, I would say about two million Colombians, fell into poverty. This aroused a questioning of the management of the State and finished uncovering the relationship between corruption and poverty. And for the first time in these 40 years of political activity, I see that Colombians feel the deep need to end the system of corruption. Youth has been a great engine in this awareness, because they do not want to settle down and accept their fate. That is for me what has become in Colombia. There is a thirst for change that was not there before.
-And what has changed in you in these twenty years?
-What changed in me?… (thinks). The kidnapping was a very violent transformation. It was the transition from being a leading person, with a voice, to being a non-person, a commodity, and that lasted six years. When I come out of the jungle, I have a different awareness of what the human drama is. But I also became aware of the capacity we have to transform a society that is experiencing this drama and, for example, free society from the kidnapping of corruption. What happened to me in the jungle, which was a kidnapping, I see in the daily life of all Colombians kidnapped against their will by this system of corruption, which does not give them work or enslaves them with endless work days. As my children grew up without their mother because they had me kidnapped, these children grow up without their parents who work informally 12 or 18 hours a day. There is also the impossibility of creating a patrimony because everything is taken from you or stolen, as happened to me while I was kidnapped. It takes a great pedagogy to change the culture of the country, but I think this is the time for that.
-Corruption is an endemic evil in many countries, and especially in Latin America. How to fight against it?
-We are going to have to be creative. I think we have to look for the strengths within our own culture, appeal to our own values such as solidarity, something that has been lost because corruption isolates us and makes us mistrust each other. In addition, it is necessary to empower women because machismo is part of the corruption system. And we must also transform the way we see the right to participate in the prosperity of the nation. In Colombia, those who are excluded from this right, find in drug trafficking a source of enrichment.
-There are many challenges together. How is progress against drug trafficking, corruption, and climate change?
-I am thinking of proposing to the region, including Argentina, an agreement with the United States, which I would like to call the Alliance for Progress, recalling John Kennedy’s proposal, in which we can enter to answer three issues that can be solved in parallel because they have communicating vessels: drug trafficking, migration and climate change. There are three issues on which a regional policy is necessary. The first thing is to regionally decriminalize drugs, with which we would put an end to everything that is financing terrorism in the region, violence, gangs, flows of all kinds of illicit trade, white slavery, and illegal arms trade. All this happens because of drug trafficking. If we cut off that source of illegal income, the pressure on the issue immediately decreases. And the resources that we are using to attack drug trafficking we can invest in stabilizing populations prone to migration, who are victims of drug violence, mafias and poverty, and soon there will also be migration due to climate change. To avoid this disaster, we have to prepare ourselves, and it seems to me that we have to make a tripod between drug trafficking, migration and climate change.
-Five years after the Peace Agreement with the guerrillas, what do you criticize the FARC?
-I believe that they continue to have an economic debt and a moral debt. The moral debt is that they have had difficulty explaining their dehumanization. We need to understand how a Colombian can make the decision to chain a human being to a tree for ten years with the idea that this is ideologically valid. How is it that a human being can be validated by his ideology to become a monster? Raping girls, forcing them to have abortions, bringing children into war, torturing human beings. What happens in the brain of a person that makes him think that he has the right to justify his crimes by an ideology? It is very important that these members of the FARC secretariat make this analysis, very deep, very spiritual, very emotional and psychological, because Colombia needs to give itself the instruments so that this does not happen again.
-How do you evaluate the management of President Iván Duque?
-I would say that it is mediocre tending to bad. But worse than his economic management is the audacity with which he has assumed corrupt conduct. Every 15 days there has been a corruption scandal, and the government’s response is always: “I didn’t see it”, “That was behind my back”, “It’s not my fault”. But still nothing is done. There is no action of justice.
-More than a decade ago Colombia and Venezuela broke diplomatic relations, what do you plan to do about that issue?
-It is a big problem that we have with Venezuela, and not because it is a different political regime from ours. Each with their story. What is a problem for us is that the Venezuelan government has protected Colombian common criminals and the guerrillas to keep them in their territory, guaranteeing them security, so that they can later come to Colombia and violate public order, especially in border towns. So, what I am proposing is that we cannot regularize relations with Venezuela until they capture and extradite the leaders of these criminals to Colombia.
-How do you consider the regime of Nicolás Maduro?
-The Maduro government for me is a dictatorship and has many contradictions within it. Venezuelans are living a little better than two years ago, but not because Maduro has done something different, but because people decided to stop negotiating in bolívares to trade in dollars. It is the height of the ideological contradiction: a country that wants to end capitalism and now to survive they need the most capitalist thing there is, which are dollars
-And do you think that Daniel Ortega is also a dictator in Nicaragua?
-At least it is a government of infinite corruption. I don’t know if we can describe it as a dictatorship, but there are elements of corruption that put democracy in check. Putting all your opponents in jail is turning Nicaragua into Russia. Is Russia a democracy?… I don’t know… They are those countries that are in a gray zone and that understood that with a façade of democracy they can stay in the concert of nations without being bothered much.
-How do you see the situation in Argentina?
-Argentina is confronting the demons of the past and looking for how to get out of that circle of always having to choose the lesser evil. When Argentines go to the polls, one wishes they could elect the best candidate, and they end up voting not for but against something. But I have a great complicity with the way of being of the Argentines. My son-in-law and his whole family are from there. I see it as a town that has a decadent sense of humor that I love. His soul of tango fascinates me, that exaggeration of the dramas to be able to highlight something that is in the middle. I think Argentines have somehow made peace with their identity to the point where they can make jokes and laugh at themselves. And that is very good and very healthy.