Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Her Silence, Her Voice

Academic journal article The Virginia Quarterly Review

Her Silence, Her Voice

Article excerpt

Her Silence, Her Voice

Even Silence Has an End: My Six Years of Captivity in the Colombian Jungle by Ingrid Betancourt, Penguin Press, 2010

I. On How She Was Silenced

When Ingrid Betancourt was taken hostage on February 23, 2002, by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or the FARC as this fifty-year-old nationalist and peasant movement is better known, she was a feisty, outspoken, and rather unknown senator running for president under the banner of Oxígeno, the Green Party, that she founded four years earlier. The party was known as Ingrids party - in Colombia, she is Ingrid - and she was making news more for her political methods than for her track record. For her senatorial race, she handed out condoms for "protection against corruption" and Viagra to "reinvigorate" voters. She staged a hunger strike and named the names of those she thought had ties to the paramilitary and drug lords during congressional sessions. As a Colombian-born woman, I welcomed this new female face in the political arena. She spoke differently than other Colombian women in politics, dressed differently, moved differently. She walked a fine line between feminist and feminine. She seemed more modern than the others. We exchanged greetings once at a forum in New York City in 2000, and I noticed she had an ankle tattoo. I didn't know then that in addition to being Colombian, she was also French.

That Betancourt was taken hostage by the FARC was nothing out of the ordinary then. An average of six or seven people were being kidnapped every day. The movement that began as a splinter of the Liberal party during the civil conflict in the fifties known as La Violencia with the determination to vanquish the oligarchy - defined by them as the Conservatives, the military and the landowning class - with whatever means necessary, was still at it. They had added abduction and drug trafficking to their tactics, making them the world's leading kidnappers and perhaps the least popular revolutionary movement in Latin America's history. Nothing would stop them. Their argument was that the government had betrayed other revolutionary movements when they turned in their arms for ballots. Every rebel turned civilian, they argued, had been killed after the amnesties. What guarantee did they have that this wouldn't happen to them? So they continued arming, recruiting men and women of all ages, indoctrinating them, feeding them, making them feel important in a country that provides little opportunities, especially in the southern countryside where they were king.

Betancourt's book, Even Silence Has An End, the recently released memoir about her six years in FARC captivity, is a harrowing and admirable tale of her survival but it's also a devastating window into the organization's ways and the socially and economically divided Colombia that allows them to persist. To be stopped at a FARC checkpoint in 2002 was as normal as stopping at a red light. That was how Betancourt felt when her van was detained as she was trying to make her way to San Vicente del Caguán, a hamlet whose mayor was the only victory for her party. "I had been stopped before," she writes, "but things had changed in the last 24 hours."

What had happened was that President Andrés Pastrana who had been trying to be the first conciliatory president in Colombia's history, had gone from dove to hawk overnight. Pastrana, the son of an ex-president who like Betancourt was a member of the capital's political elite, had won the elections with a platform for peace. For the first time, the government and the FARC had agreed to negotiate a peace process. Pastrana, showing good faith, demilitarized an area deep in the jungle for the FARC to settle. This was before 9/11, when Colombia's civil war held an important place in President Clinton's foreign policy agenda. In fact, under Pastrana, Colombia quickly went from pariah to partner. Soon after the two presidents met, the US was sending Colombia a huge military aid package, third only to Israel and Egypt. …

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