It sounds like the perfect ending to one of those espionage novels I read as one of my many guilty pleasures. A Colombian politician, held hostage in a jungle hideout by the FARC rebels for 6 long years is rescued, without a single shot being fired. The perfect operation. According to the Colombian military, it involved spies, deception, helicopters and Che Guevara T-shirts. The politician is Ingrid Betancourt, who was campaigning for President of Colombia in 2002 when she was nabbed by the FARC (Colombia’s main rebel group) and held hostage ever since. I’ve always been drawn to her story for its international dimensions and the fact that it involves a woman politician in a country that has long fascinated me.
Perhaps I think about this story more because I have friends who have been personally affected by the civil war in Colombia, including one whose husband was shot at point-blank range by someone he had angered with his political reporting. The shooter actually fired too close for the type of weapon he was using, and my friend’s husband survived. They fled Colombia with their young son and came to Princeton on an endangered scholars program.
It was only a few months ago when I heard an interview with Ingrid Betancourt’s husband that the story began to haunt me. At one point during her captivity, he dropped thousands of photos of her children from an airplane into the jungle where she was being held in the hopes that she would get one. After that, I found myself thinking about Ms. Betancourt, her captors and of course, her children a lot. I’m sure all parents experience this radical shifting of the lens through which you view and digest life’s events -- especially the news -- after having children. The same stories affect me very differently now than they did 5 years ago (B.C.). I tried to imagine my children being the ages of hers: 13 and 16, and having me disappear into the jungle, possibly to be killed by my captors. Unthinkable.
And how would a person mentally deal with the anguish of being held captive for six years? The rebels and other captives reported over the years that she was feisty and a fighter who tried to escape more than once. Of course she was. This is a woman whose first remarks after her rescue included the comment that she still wants to run for president! I like to think that her iron will also stems in part from the angry, desperate mother in her. The part of all of us that would claw, scratch and bite if we had to in order to get back to our kids. And I’m sure we can all identify with the other side of her, the side that describes her feelings at being reunited with her children after all these years: “Nirvana, paradise”.