Sun Jan 21st, 2007 at 08:54:42 AM EST
Yesterday I attended "B the Change" Conference in Maastricht. There I met the children of Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt. They were telling the story of their mother's kidnapping and asking for solidarity.
It was the first time I heard this story. And I thought that it will be good to pass it on to you. While many of you may know about it, some of you have probably not heard the story yet. And it is a story worth telling.
As Melanie Betancourt told the audience yesterday, this is a cry for help.
I was impressed by the way Melanie and Lorenzo, Ingrid's children, were speaking. They communicated not as children but as grown-ups. It is hard to imagine what they have gone through. Their mother has been missing since 2002, the last proof of life dating from 2003. The fight they have started for their mother's liberation has turned into a fight for liberating the 3000+ hostages held in the jungles of Colombia.
Melanie and Lorenzo spoke of Colombia as land of not only drugs and poverty, but also beautiful scenes and richness. However, the military struggles have impoverished the people and ruined the possibility for normal existence.
The children shared stories of families torn apart between military struggles. For instance, two brothers found themselves against each other when one of them joined the government army while the other joined the forces of one of the guerillas. The irony is that they did not join the forces because they believed in their cause, but because this was the only source of income.
The stories of poverty are as dreadful. People dying in front of hospitals, not having money to get treatment. Small children eating soup of boiled newspaper, so that they have something to chew on. It is outrageous that most of the money flowing into Colombia is used not for humanitarian purposes but for the support of militaries.
A short overview of the story:
Columbia today exudes a very difficult political-social situation. The civil war between the guerrillas of Farc, the Eln and the paramilitaries, makes the latin-american country one of the social realities where the violations of human rights are higher, as the recent report of Amnesty International has already denounced.
More than 300 people have "disappeared", 4000 civilians have been murdered, and more than 3000 people are kidnapped each year.
Among these people is the ex-presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt.
Ingrid's father was in office as Minister of the Education of Columbia during the 1960s, her mother (once known to have been elected Miss Colombia, but more often remembered for her engagement in social activities, helping the orphans of Bogotà.) was also elected to the Colombia Senate. Ingrid grew up between Colombia and France, where her father was embassador of Colombia to UNESCO in Paris.
She took a political science degree in Paris, then in 1990 Ingrid decided to move indefinitely to her mother's country with only one goal: to change Colombia, to fight against corruption and narcotraffic and to provide her fellow-countrymen a place where living could be easier.
Thanks to her fame, Ingrid was able to obtain encharges after the Ministry of Finance but she had to fight against forces more powerful than her. She then realized how hard this struggle to reclaim Colombia would be.
In 1994 Ingrid presented herself to the elections as a Member of parliament.
Her electoral campaign emitted controversy right away, mostly because of the symbol of the fight against corruption.
Thanks to the powerful impact of this image, Betancourt managed to be elected as a member of parliament and in she presented herself to the Senate hoping to increase her influence and her power, although minute, to change things.
During the first phases of her position in Parliament (and later in the Senate,) Ingrid was faced with corrupt politicians. She strived hard to fight this and unmask a slew of political conspiracies, but the effort was rendered useless. Through her active campaigning and fighting to end corruption and narcotraffic, her life became endangered. Threats were made not only against Ingrid but also her two children, Melanie and Lorenzo, who now rest safe with their father, Ingrid's ex-husband.
In 2000, Ingrid published a book "Until Death Do Us Part" which has been translated many languages including English, French, Italian, and even into Japanese, in order to voice her concerns and endeavors to the public.
Her fight then becomes known throughout the world.
Ingrid's goals do not stop there. She decided to try and make a bigger impact by deciding to run for President of Colombia for the 2002 elections. She creates her own party to voice her ideas, Green Oxygen.
During this electoral campaign, Ingrid showed all her desire to make Colombia a prosperous country. To demonstrate such loyalty to her cause, she travelled to S.Vicente, 600 km south of Bogotà, a territory occupied by FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Columbia,) an armed group that since 1996 is fighting against the government of Columbia to reign out the power.
It has been a civil war with many victims and that, most of all, made impossible the life of the people that have to survive in those territories.
In spite of the fact that the former President Pastrana discouraged Ingrid to make this trip and refused to give her an escort, she felt a moral duty being present among those people in difficulty.
Unfortunately this decision cost her dearly. On 23th of February 2002 Ingrid Betancourt was kidnapped by FARC, along with Clara Rojas, her best friend and director of her electoral campaign.
The Presidential elections went on as usual this year with the victory of the liberal Uribe.
Ingrid (although being kidnapped...) obtained 1% of the approvals, but she had always known that it would have been difficult.
Politics in Columbia have always been based on corruption, and it is no secret that many presidential campaigns were based on buying and selling votes.
Besides, for a poor campesino it is easier to believe to the pesos offered to him for a vote more than the words of hope by Ingrid, most of all now that FARC keeps her as a prisoner.
This is a sad story that deserves much consideration. Ingrid Betancourt's children are calling for political dialogue
as the only way to achieve the release of hostages and end the kidnapping.
Video on Colombia
French website with pages in English, Spanish, etc.: http://www.betancourt.info
Dutch website: http://www.betancourt.nl
Website Paris: http://www.ingridbetancourt-idf.com/base/
German website: http://betancourt.blogg.de
Canadian website: http://www.4ingrid.com
Aéropostale actie: http://www.educweb.org/Aeropostale
Colombian website: http://www.paislibre.org