Ex- Hostage Reevaluates Right in Colombia

As Ingrid Betancourt continues her worldwide book tour, most of the press focuses on the former Colombian senator and presidential candidate’s gripping saga of nearly seven years of captivity under the FARC Communist guerillas, her spectacular rescue in ’09, and how she is dealing with adjusting to life today.

But there was one observation Betancourt made in Washington that much of the international press has overlooked but that is nonetheless poignant and politically dramatic: that her native country is “not the Colombia it was when I was abducted” and has “improved a lot” in the eight years since her kidnapping in February of ’02—when it has been under governments headed by conservatives who had been political foes of Betancourt when she was a left-of-center representative, senator, and presidential candidate.

“The security has improved a lot,” Betancourt told a standing-room-only crowd at the National Press Club in Washington on September 22. “It is not the Colombia it was when I was abducted.”

The year that she was kidnapped by FARC guerillas, Betancourt was the presidential nominee of the Oxygen Party, a decidedly-left-of-center movement. As Betancourt herself described the party in her memoir Even Silence Has An End: “We were putting forward an ecological and pacifist platform. We were ‘green,’ we were about social reform.”

Betancourt’s leading opponent in ’02 was conservative Alvaro Uribe, who went on to win the presidency twice. Under Uribe and Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, the Colombian government took a hard-line against FARC, killed many of its leaders, and rescued numerous hostages: among them Betancourt, who came out of captivity in February of ’09 following a spectacular raid in which undercover agents posed as Red Cross workers to get to the FARC-held hostages. Earlier this year, Santos was elected president.

So, after eight years of rule under political enemies she once called “ultra-right,” how does Betancourt feel Colombia is doing? As she told the Press Club audience, “We’re walking in the right direction. We’re a better democracy than yesterday.”

She also said that the Colombian military “is doing a great job” fighting the FARC and terrorism.

Her failure to say anything critical about conservatives Uribe and Santos is likely to disappoint Betancourt’s enthusiasts on the Left. (The fact that the former senator speaks so often of how her Roman Catholic faith means more to her now and that reading the Bible sustained her while a hostage is also unlikely to please fans of hers on the leftist side). Many had urged her to make another race for the presidency in 2010, but she declined to run in the race won by Santos.

Will she re-enter politics and possibly run for President again in 2014? Betancourt said it was unlikely, but left the door slightly ajar regarding a comeback.

“I don’t feel politics is right now, but that doesn’t mean I wouldn’t do it again,” she said. “Right now, I need to find a place to reconstruct my life.” She added that, at this time, “I do not want to do politics in Colombia.”