Former Green party leader Íngrid Betancourt gave testimony yesterday before Colombia’s Special Tribunal for Peace (JEP), recounting her experiences as a captive of former guerrilla group FARC. Betancourt was held hostage, along with 14 others, for six years before she was freed in a raid orchestrated by the Colombian government in 2008.
“For me this story is not the story of an illegal captivity. For me this is the story of my descent into hell,” Betancourt said via video link from Paris, France.
Betancourt spoke earlier this year of her trust in the JEP, saying that the institution was vital and that she hoped to be an example for other victims to come forward and tell their stories too.
“My interest is that victims attend the JEP not with vengeance in mind…but to seek the restoration of the full truth ,” Betancourt went on to say before the magistrates of the JEP. This week has been reserved by the court to hear testimonies of victims of kidnappings by the FARC.
Betancourt’s testimony included the brutality that the FARC’s 15th Front showed her in the years of her captivity within rebel-held territory. She detailed being chained to trees and facing psychological humiliation at the hands of her captors.
Much of what Betancourt said traversed territory that had been covered before in her memoir Even Silence Has An End and the details of the hostage rescue received wall-to-wall coverage at the time from international media. Named Operation Jaque, the raid that rescued Betancourt and 14 other hostages was seen as a big political win for then President Álvaro Uribe and his Minister of Defense Juan Manuel Santos.
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Betancourt’s kidnapping occurred during a visit to a demilitarised zone while campaigning as the presidential candidate for the Green party. She alleged that the government, headed by President Andrés Pastrana, was aware of the dangers she would face in visiting the area.
Kidnappings were a common tactic used by the FARC at the time in order to maintain power and increase funds. The JEP– a body set up as part of the landmark peace accord between the government and the FARC–will continue to hear the testimonies of victims of kidnappings as part of the process against former leaders of the group.
This morning the court heard from politicians Orlando Beltrán, Consuelo Gonzalez and Jorge Eduardo Gechem, all of whom had been held captive by FARC rebels. Speaking of his ordeal Gechem, who was held hostage by the FARC for six years, stated that this was an important day to recognise the victims of Colombia’s long-running conflict. “We hope that the victims are taken into account.” Gechem said, “With this testimony that I give to you, I reaffirm my commitment to peace.”