"We never want to go back to the past," Ingrid Betancourt told a group that included her former captors on Wednesday

By Virginia Chamlee
June 25, 2021 05:06 PM
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Franco-Colombian politician and former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt
Ingrid Betancourt
| Credit: RAUL ARBOLEDA/AFP via Getty

Thirteen years after being released from guerillas who held her hostage for more than six years, French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt faced her captors this week, according to multiple news outlets.

The Associated Press, BBC and France 24 report that Betancourt, a former Colombian presidential candidate, delivered remarks to ex-combatants as part of a meeting held under Colombia's 2016 peace accord, which put a halt to years of civil war between armed groups and the government.

"I would never have imagined in the depths of my captivity that one day I would have the possibility of a human dialogue with my former captors," she reportedly said.

The meeting, organized by the Truth Commission, saw Betancourt and other victims who were kidnapped during Colombia's 50-year war, speak directly to some of the perpetrators, who also gave remarks of their own.

The former commander of the now-defunct group FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the rebel group responsible for Betancourt's 2002 kidnapping), also spoke on Wednesday - apologizing and seeking the forgiveness of those whom he said the group hurt and even killed.

"To those who never returned from abduction, to those who lost their lives at our hands, to those close to them who have been burdened for years by their absence ... we beg them to forgive us," Rodrigo Londono said, according to France 24. "We speak with a sense of shame."

France 24 reported that the group has admitted it played a role in upwards of 21,000 kidnappings.

In response, Betancourt said she felt the kidnappers were not showing genuine empathy.

"I must confess I am surprised that we on this side of the stage are all crying and on the other side there has not been a single tear," she said at the event on Wednesday, as reported by France 24. "As long as our nightmare is only ours ... we are still a long way from being able to explain to Colombia what really happened."

Betancourt recounted her kidnapping in a 2018 interview with the BBC, calling it a "traumatic moment, because I thought they were going to kill me."

She continued: "I had images of politicians - Colombian politicians - that had been killed on a dirt road near there. I remember thinking, 'Oh my god, this is so stupid. I mean this is the end of my life and I didn't even get to say goodbye to my children.' "

Her faith, she said, helped her cope mentally.

"Because for me, with all the horror of what was happening, thinking about death gave me the feeling that it was not the end of all," Betancourt told the BBC. "That there would be something else after death. And that was very vividly true. It was like, well this is the end of this but I'll catch up."

She was taken in 2002 and rescued in 2008.

The BBC, citing data from the National Center for Historical Memory, reports that the war in Colombia left 262,000 dead, 80,000 missing and 37,000 people kidnapped between 1958 and 2016. The 2016 peace agreement signed established that the kidnappers who accepted the agreement and demobilized from the group would not be punished with years in prison.

According to her translated remarks, Betancourt on Wednesday called the meeting "not a political and legal formality, but a spiritual exercise," adding that the victims "never want to go back to the past."