Colombia’s Most Famous Kidnapping Victim is Running for President

Ingrid Betancourt was kidnapped by the FARC guerrilla group in February 2002 and held captive for six years. The FARC has since been demobilized.

Jan 18 2022, 7:24pm

Ingrid Betancourt last campaigned to be Colombia’s president exactly 20 years ago, and it didn’t end well. She was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group and held captive for more than six years.

On Tuesday, Betancourt announced another run for the presidency, marking her return to the political sphere. The most famous victim of Colombia’s armed conflict that lasted more than 50 years and left more than 200,000 people dead, Betancourt is a symbol of the violence that has devastated the country, as well as a deeply flawed reconciliation process. 


Her presidential bid is a long shot but adds a layer of unpredictability to the May 29 elections, political analysts said, adding that many Colombians are eager to leave the conflict in the past and that Betancourt’s campaign could fail to resonate. 

“I loved her as a crusading anti-corruption senator but am not at all sure what she has to offer after her personal trauma and being absent from the country for a decade,” said Douglas Farah, president of IBI Consultants, a national security consulting firm in Latin America.

A centrist candidate, Betancourt is seeking to replace conservative President Iván Duque, Colombia’s least popular president in recent history, according to Gallup polling. Deadly and widespread national protests last year highlighted the widening inequality and rising poverty under his administration. Left-wing candidate and former Bogota Mayor Gustavo Petro is leading in the polls to replace Duque. 

Betancourt, who made her name as an anti-corruption crusading Senator, was kidnapped in 2002 when she took her presidential campaign to territory held by the now demobilized FARC guerrilla group, which financed its leftwing goals through criminal activities such as cocaine trafficking and kidnapping. During her six years of captivity, she endured food shortages, forced marches that lasted weeks, and jungle leprosy, according to her 2010 memoir, “Even Silence Has An End.”

Colombian special forces freed Betancourt and U.S. military contractors who were also being held captive in 2008, and she immediately moved to France, where she has citizenship. While Betancourt received a hero’s welcome, her 2010 lawsuit against the Colombian government triggered a backlash, given the government had rescued her and she allegedly visited former-FARC territory despite being told it was too dangerous. Betancourt dropped the lawsuit.

The U.S. contractors who were rescued alongside Betancourt criticized her in a memoir as a “domineering presence who suffered from arrogance and egotism,” according to the Guardian

Betancourt returned to Colombia in 2016 for the first time since her rescue to lend her support to peace talks between the government and leftist guerrillas. While the talks ended in a peace deal and the dissolution of the FARC, violence has surged in parts of the country between other armed groups and former members of the FARC who stayed in the field. Poverty has exploded during the pandemic and also continues to fuel unrest.

“Ingrid is trying to make reconciliation and healing a central part of the discussion but Colombia's electoral narrative has been dominated by hatred and frustration of the status quo,” said Sergio Guzmán, director of Colombia Risk Analysis, a political risk consultancy firm based in Bogotá. “Fear and frustration have been the dominant emotions. Ingrid is trying to make reconciliation among them.”

Betancourt is joining Colombia’s centrist coalition, Centro Esperanza, which will hold a primary on March 13 to determine who will become the coalition’s presidential candidate. The coalition has been criticized for being “too white, too male, and too centered around Bogotá,” Guzmán said.

Betancourt, the daughter of a Colombian politician, has little chance of winning the primary, Guzmán said, but could be nominated as a vice-presidential candidate.


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