Welcome to European Tribune. It's gone a bit quiet around here these days, but it's still going.

A Cry for Help

by Naneva 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.

Federico Bastiani

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

Colombia is in a situation of pseudo civil war. It is the most dangerous country in latin america by far.

It is a very sad situation.. but the ilegalization of coca made it possible....

I doubt we cna do very much from here.. even our politicians would not be able to do much in the present framework. I hink it is more worthwhile to increase the pressure for the legalization of drugs...and still this is  also a long long shot.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Sun Jan 21st, 2007 at 10:58:25 AM EST
And she is a European citizen..

But what makes me very angry is the fact that the US is supporting this civil war with resources.

-- Fighting my own apathy..

by Naneva (mnaneva at gmail dot com) on Sun Jan 21st, 2007 at 11:15:53 AM EST
[ Parent ]
Absolutely.. adn the head of wall street goes and has a chat with the leader of the revolutionary group FARC....

It is all about blackmoney from drugs used int he proper way...

yeah...Colombia is acountry in the middle of a cross-fire.

A pleasure

I therefore claim to show, not how men think in myths, but how myths operate in men's minds without their being aware of the fact. Levi-Strauss, Claude

by kcurie on Sun Jan 21st, 2007 at 11:30:32 AM EST
[ Parent ]
I would not characterize the guerrilla insurgency as a "civil war."  From what I saw, most Colombians would welcome an end to the insurgency.  The problem is that the GOC does not really have the resources or will to end it.  If the US was really supporting the war against the guerrillas in any meaningful way, the FARC, which is mostly self-supporting and a fairly ragtag movement, would be gone by now.  Most US money goes into the war against drugs and that has mostly been aimed at disrupting coca growing (through aerial spraying-with dubious success), destroying laboratories, and targeting drug distribution networks, and transport.  I believe there has been some training, advice, and maybe supply to the Colombian military as well, but I am not aware of the extent to date.  Stats should be available on line somewhere, but I would be careful in searching because some sites I have seen specialize in giving a very slanted view, deceptively lacking in veracity.  I can say this with good conscious. As I stated previously, the GOC doesn't have aa perfect record on human rights by any means, but it is trying to rectify that problem from what I saw.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears
by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 07:18:19 PM EST
[ Parent ]
As the coordinator of a US Govt. funded anti-kidnapping initiative in Colombia (2003-04), I am intimately aware of the criminal and FARC kidnapping schemes in Colombia.

Having met personally with Colombian officials, as high as the Vice President  (himself a one time kidnapping victim), I can assure everyone that the primary goal of the Colombian Govt (GOC). is to secure the safe release of all kidnapped victims. During the period of my association, the GOC was becoming increasing successful in rescuing victims and disrupting the guerilla (mostly FARC), right wing paramilitary gps,and criminal gangs that are responsible for kidnapping.  The plight of Ms. Betancourt and others that remain on the list of those held is that they usually have been relocated, after being kidnapped, to areas held by the FARC.  Rescue attempts under such circumstances are very difficult.

My personal views on the FARC are that while it was once ideologically motivated it has degenerated into nothing more than a band of criminals that supports itself, not on popular contributions, but on trafficing in illegal drugs, protection of coca and heroin fields, and kidnapping of innocent civilians.  While there is no doubt that corruption is common in Colombia, as in many countries throughout the world, and there are human rights abuse (also prevalant elsewhere, the main culprit is not the GOC but the guerilla groups, primarily the FARC.   The US Govt. policy on human rights abuse by the GOC army and police was very clear.  No support was to be given to any particular army or police group that participated in any human rights abuses or to any such group that had a member who was accused of such abuses.   I believe the GOC has made significant efforts to reduce abuses and continues to do so.  Nevertheless, the effects of the on-going war with the criminal FARC, on top of one-time domination of the country by the drug cartels, has had a devastation effect on the lives of all Colombians.  This small, and yes beautiful, country, deserves our continued support.

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Sun Jan 21st, 2007 at 01:16:02 PM EST
It is very interesting that you have been on the spot.

Could you tell as something more about the instruments and methods GOC uses to fight kidnapping and end military  struggles?

-- Fighting my own apathy..

by Naneva (mnaneva at gmail dot com) on Sun Jan 21st, 2007 at 05:21:34 PM EST
[ Parent ]
I can tell you that the Colombian Government has a variety of institutions involved in the fight against kidnapping.  It is good, in some ways, to have so many institutions involved, but it also leads to inefficiency, duality of roles, turf battles, confusion, etc.  Some years before I became involved, the GOC created special law enforcement units within the national police and military dedicated to disrupting kidapping gangs/cells, gathering intelligence on kidnappers, and of course, rescuing kidnapping victims.  These units, known as GAULAS (my self-imposed tendency to quickly forget my old careers sometimes takes over so please excuse a few lapses).  (GAULA is an acronym that stands for something like groups for the protection of personal freedom.)

Since many kidnapped victims are taken in cities or small towns (primarily by the FARC or criminal gangs that sell victims to the FARC) and later transferred to more remote areas, it becomes very important to effect rescues as soon as possible, especially before the victims are transferred to areas where the FARC has domination.

Our assistance efforts were in several areas, one of which was to improve the effectiveness of the GAULAS at rescuing victims unharmed, collecting and preserving evidence, and apprehending kidnappers and successfully bringing them to justice.  We also emphasized proper law enforcement methodology and respect for human rights during training sessions.

Another goal was integrating the various GOC institutions with anti-kidnapping roles via a state of the art computerized information and communications system that permitted real time sharing of relevant kidnapping data between agencies, including the creation of kidnapping investigations reports and criminal justice data by appropriate agencies.

Along with these initiatives, other progress was being made in reforming the Colombian justice system by changing laws and creating a modern courts system that streamlined the Napoleonic Code system that was no longer able to cope with the types and numbers of crimes being committed.

Another part of the anti-kidnapping puzzle was to gain the trust of average Colombians who, like many citizens of Latin American countries, distrust their own justice systems to such an extent that most crime goes unreported.  In Colombia, as in other countries with kidnapping problems, private institutions have emerged that specialize in collecting fees from victims' families, by arranging for ransoms in hopes that victims will be freed if the police are not involved.  While these tactics sometimes work, the Betancourt and other cases indicate they do not always have the desired result.  In addition, paying ransom makes kidnapping profitable and reinforces the belief that this crime does pay.

I have not kept up with the efforts to end Colombia's war with the FARC.  I know attempts have been made to resolve issues, but I don't see much incentive for the FARC to cease its activities.  They will want something that is at least as profitable to them as their current criminal schemes.  Part of the problem with the Government effort has been a lack of willingness on the part of the military to engage the FARC.  During a short period of time, it appeared that was changing, and it may have.  As I said, I really haven't kept up with it.    

I can swear there ain't no heaven but I pray there ain't no hell. _ Blood Sweat & Tears

by Gringo (stargazing camel at aoldotcom) on Mon Jan 22nd, 2007 at 02:09:55 PM EST
[ Parent ]
Maybe it will be good to try to brainstorm about ways in which we can help.

Certainly, knowing about the issue is the first step. Then talking about it. Civil society is exactly that - being proactive and searching for ways to deal with problems. But how much can we, as individual citizens, do? I wonder, for example, to what extent a mayor in a city may be interested in hearing about the case.

And what about the EU and its voice on the international scene? Certainly, it is never easy for the EU to come up with a single voice in politics since it consists of many member states with diverging opinions and interests. This becomes even more so in cases when something more than a "resolution" or a "declaration" is needed. But when the issue at stake is human rights of EU citizens.. Though when the issue is far away from home, it is rarely in the spotlight.. Then maybe "an interest link" is needed..

-- Fighting my own apathy..

by Naneva (mnaneva at gmail dot com) on Sun Jan 21st, 2007 at 05:34:31 PM EST

Go to: [ European Tribune Homepage : Top of page : Top of comments ]