The Witness of Ingrid Betancourt

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jul 14, 2008 | Categories: Politics

Ingrid Betancourt, 46, a former Columbian presidential candidate and political hostage, was rescued last week in a daring raid by the Columbian military. Three American hostages held with her were also freed. betancourtingrid.gif

Betancourt had been held  captive nearly six years in the Columbian jungle by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, or Farc. She returned to a joyous welcome in France after the rescue. “I owe everything to France,” she said, after landing at a military base outside Paris to a warm greeting by President Nicolas Sarkozy.

In comments to Europe 1 radio, she said that her captors had chained her day and night for the first three years, but that she was sustained by her Roman Catholic faith and thoughts of family.

“I was in chains all the time, 24 hours a day, for three years,” she said. “I tried to wear those chains with dignity, even if I felt that it was unbearable.”

Asked if she was tortured, she said, “Yes, yes,” and her captors had fallen in to “diabolical behavior,” adding, “It was so monstrous I think they themselves were disgusted.” She called her rescue “a miracle of the Virgin Mary” and said, “You need a tremendous spirituality to stop yourself from falling into an abyss.” She made herself a wooden rosary in the jungle, she said.

Listening to Betancourt’s account of her Farc kidnappers reminded me of a time in the 1980s when I cancelled my NCR subscription. (I have since returned as a subscriber!)

At that time, the paper petered out its coverage of gay, women’s   and lay protests for  a voice in church finances and governance; and seemed to focus exclusively Latin American “liberation” stories and editorials.

But unfortunately, like an Animal Farm parody, the writing cast “liberation soldiers-good,” “capitalistic Americans-bad.” After a while, it got to be so lop-sided and venomous about America I stopped reading NCR.

A lot of women I knew who were members of religious communities whole-heartedly endorsed NCR’s views and their one-dimensional portrayals of rebels, peasants, government officials, American military and multinational corporations.

A lot of military operations on both sides were funded by the sale of dope grown by peasant farmers, but I don’t remember anyone speaking out against it, or its impact on the poor and hopeless in this country.

Around that time a group of us used to get together for potluck supper on Fridays. Included were several sisters from different communities. For the most part, these women were good people, thoughtful, sincere and outspoken; if a little naive about life for people outside their communities and populations they served.

Anyway, during one Friday supper, one woman, a good friend of one of the sisters, proudly related her pilgrimage to the Sandinista rebels in El Salvador. When the halo became too visible, I finally had it and dropped a stink bomb. “Did you tell them you’re a dyke,” I asked. She didn’t answer, but gave me a defiant, hostile glare. “So you told them all about yourself, but you left that part out.”

“Of course you didn’t tell them you’re a lesbian, I said. “Because if you had,” I paused and went on, “you would not have been welcomed by them as a friend. Since you’re an American, and they want our money and goodwill press, you would not have been harmed. But I bet if one of   their people came out, they would have been beaten, maybe raped, and certainly forced back into the closet. How many gay groups are there in Cuba, China, El Salvador?” Nobody said a word.

The evening was over but the point was made: Let’s have a little clarity in our view, and with it, a little balance.   Ideology–any ideology–in the hands of extremists becomes a killer. Ideology should never be allowed to  forget the humanity it proports to serve.

Within 48 hours of her liberation, Betancourt said Columbian president Alvaro Uribe should find ways to acquire the release of other hostages held by Farc. “President Uribe, and not just President Uribe but Columbia as a whole, should change some things,” said Betancourt to the press.

Stating that forbearance and respect were urgently required, she also said: “I think the time has come to change the language of radicalism, extremism and hatred, the very strong words that cause deep hurt to a human being.”

Since Betancourt, now a global icon, may well run for president of Columbia again, it’s a  statement that is both political and personal.

The interesting question is what will be the impact of the spirituality she forged in her jungle captivity?  What does it mean to exist  with a chain around your neck? How do you look at your captors after you are freed? ibcaptive.JPG

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