Sunday, July 13, 2008

"For Me, He (Chavez) Is Very Important" - Betancourt

Jorge Ramos: Ingrid, a short time ago you spoke by telephone with Hugo Chavez. What did Chavez say to you? Do you trust the president of Venezuela?

Ingrid Betancourt: Yes, of course. For me, he is very important. I think he has a voice that is heard throughout the continent. I know that whatever he says is important to the members of FARC. Much of what Chavez says affects the guerrillas profoundly because they don't like to be told things. They would like, let's say, to have a fan club around them. And they don't like having their actions criticized. I think that Chavez does it prudently. I think it's necessary to keep open, let's say, the possibility of someone speaking to the guerrillas. I've always thought that the Colombian guerrilla movement is autistic, it only likes to hear itself, they have committees of applause, they come from a closed world where the only thing that has value for them are the congratulations that they give themselves. They have to understand that there's a world that's judging them, one that is not pleased with what they're doing, that puts a negative value on the act of kidnapping and on the other acts of terrorism that they do, as well as the suffering that they impose on many Colombians; and they have to understand that the world is no longer prepared to accept those kinds of actions. The people that are right now changing the way of doing politics, for example, like Hugo Chavez, managed to gain power in a democratic way. Democracy in Latin America is today a great example. All over Latin America we see people so different, of such different political sensibilities. All of them have followed the democratic path, all of them have their own personality, they speak for countries that have, let's say, their own character, it's a mosaic of return (to democracy). I feel so proud of being Latin American. . . in that Latin America that we're living today, where we are struggling to be better, to have more social justice, to have more development, to find a space for technology. With so many dreams to share there's no space for violence, for the spilling of blood, for thinking that, like . . . The FARC think that they are a messianic organization to whom falls the responsibility of transforming Colombia. But Colombia is transforming itself without FARC. Colombia is transforming itself against FARC. If they really want to participate in the awakening of Colombia, they have to put down their arms.

Jorge Ramos: Thirty-eight days before they kidnapped you I had the opportunity to have an interview with you here in Miami, when you were promoting your book, "Fury In The Heart." In that interview you told me the following about Alvaro Uribe. I'm quoting. You said: "Alvaro Uribe is the candidate of the paramilitaries and a person who is putting Colombian democracy at risk." Do you still think the same about Alvaro Uribe?

Ingrid Betancourt: The Colombians elected Alvaro Uribe. They elected him once in 2002 and they elected him again two years ago. Today Alvaro Uribe represents the will of Colombia. It's very important that we understand that our democracies in Latin America have that function of giving representation to our peoples. Alvaro Uribe provides that representation. I think that he has succeeded in giving back to Colombians the feeling that their families are safe. And I think that has allowed the Colombian nation to mature. I see an awakening of Colombian conscience. I see that these days Colombians can be touched by someone else's suffering, which didn't used to happen because we were too preoccupied with our own suffering, I think that nowadays Colombians have a desire to struggle for others. One of the most powerful moments for our nation was when it was having the marches it has been holding. There were some marches for our freedom and for peace at the beginning of this year. And there is a new march planned for July 20, to whom I invite all Colombians who are watching me, all the Colombians in the whole world, all those who have befriended the Colombian struggle, all those who have accompanied us all these years so that they march with us, not only physically, but in their hearts and with their voices, helping us to demand freedom for those that are kidnapped and held hostage in Colombia. Juanes is going to come here to France and sing impromptu. There is nothing really planned, but let's say we are going to meet with artists, with intellectuals, with people who, let's say, all of us consider leaders, who are like teachers that make us think. People are going to come from all over the world to be with us. For me that's the important thing. The rest . . . I think that all of us have matured, I think that all of us have resorted to a way, I think that there are things that we don't like and that have to be transformed. But the important thing is to transform our hearts first. When hearts are transformed first, new actions follow.

Jorge Ramos: Exactly how have you adapted to freedom? You exchanged the dragonflies of the jungle for the lights of Paris, the mud and dirt of the jungle for the fragrances of perfumes and hotels, the river for a shower. Do you feel strange being free?

Ingrid Betancourt: I feel blessed by God to be free. And what worries me is to think that throughout my life before that experience, I didn't understand what its value was, how lucky we are to be free, to be free and alive. It's something like oxygen. You don't feel a lack of oxygen until you're underwater and can't breathe. And that is something that I want to share with you, because I think that it's very important that we understand that there are people in the world who don't have that good fortune and that don't have as I do the possibility of telling you all everything that I lived, and they are people who are suffering and are mute and don't have a way to speak, to shout, to ask for help. And therefore I think it's very important that everything we do be directed towards serving those people who need us. And that we don't stop struggling. I think that in this moment . . . well, obviously I'm thinking very intensely about the hostages, my friends, my family that remains in the jungle. But there are also people around the world who are suffering, and I think that it's very necessary that we understand that each one of us with our heart and with our words can make a difference.

Excerpt of Jorge Ramos interview with Ingrid Betancourt on "Al Punto," July 13, 2008. Translation by Michael K. Smith. Complete interview available in Spanish at

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