Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, who was held hostage for six years by the country’s largest guerrilla group, said Tuesday that she will run for the presidency of her country.
She enters a crowded field in which Gustavo Petro, a left-wing former mayor of Bogotá, is currently leading in the polls, but where moderates like Betancourt have a chance to do well, if they can pool their efforts and take advantage of the frustration of the voters with corruption and growing inequality.
The announcement comes nearly two decades after Betancourt was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia while also campaigning for the country’s presidency for the Green Oxygen Party, a movement she founded when she was a congressman.
“Today I come to complete what I started with many of you in 2002,” said Betancourt in a conference room where he announced his candidacy. “I am here to claim the rights of 51 million Colombians who do not find justice, because we live in a system designed to reward criminals.”
Betancourt’s bid for the presidency comes months after other candidates have already been traveling the country to campaign for the job, and some critics have questioned whether it could have an impact on presidential elections in May. But others said his campaign could also boost interest in a centrist coalition of political parties that will hold a primary in March to select its presidential candidate and could pose a serious challenge to Petro if he presents a united front.
In the primaries, Betancourt will compete against half a dozen candidates who have been more recently involved in Colombian politics but have struggled in opinion polls.
“It gives the coalition something new to offer,” said Yan Basset, a political science professor at Bogotá’s Universidad del Rosario, who said the other candidates in the downtown primaries, where there were “upper-class white men” who they did not generate “enthusiasm” among voters.
Betancourt, on the other hand, has a well-known story that many Colombians who have been victims of violent groups can relate to: she was held for six years in guerrilla camps deep in the Amazon jungle, where she was sometimes tied up by rebel fighters. to a tree with metal chains to prevent it from escaping. His proof-of-life videos, in which he asked officials to investigate the circumstances that led to his own kidnapping and then pleaded with the government to resume peace talks with FARC rebels, were widely shared in Colombia and abroad. Foreign.
The politician became a symbol of international campaigns seeking peace talks in Colombia and the release of FARC hostages. But his time in captivity ended in 2008 through a military operation, where Colombian soldiers disguised as aid workers kidnapped Betancourt and several other FARC hostages without firing a single bullet.
Betancourt retired from public life after being released, spending much of her time with her family in France.
But she returned to Colombia’s political scene last year as the country geared up for upcoming presidential elections. Announcing his candidacy for the presidency, Betancourt said he would fight to end impunity for corrupt politicians and address the economic disparities that have long plagued Colombia, where protests against inequality rocked local politics last year.
“My story is the story of all Colombians,” said Betancourt, 60. “While my colleagues and I were chained by the neck, Colombian families were chained by corruption, violence and injustice.”
“While our captors deprived us of food, gangsters and politicians continued to steal and waste our resources without taking care of the children who go without breakfast here in Colombia.”
Betancourt will run again as a candidate for the Oxígeno Verde party, which is now part of a coalition of centrist political movements that will hold primaries in March.
In the primaries, Betancourt will have to compete with younger candidates, less well known internationally, but who have been more active in Colombian politics in recent years. They include Senator Juan Manuel Galán, whose father was assassinated in the late 1980s while running for president, and Alejandro Gaviria, a former health minister who helped implement a government ban on aerial spraying of coca crops. Sergio Fajardo, the former mayor of Medellín who came in third place in the 2018 presidential election, will also run against Betancourt in the primaries.
Sergio Guzmán, a political risk analyst in Bogotá, said that with just two months to go before the primaries, it will be difficult for Betancourt to have an impact.
“She represents reconciliation” and other issues that were important during previous elections, such as the Colombian government’s need to make peace with armed groups, Guzmán said. But those are not the main issues voters are concerned about this election, according to polls.
“The main sentiment right now among voters is frustration with a system that doesn’t provide opportunity,” Guzmán said. “And there are other candidates who have been doing a good job tapping into that sentiment.”
Currently, the polls are led by Gustavo Petro, who announced his campaign for the presidency the same day he lost the 2018 elections to President Iván Duque. Petro has been visible in the Colombian media ever since, backing protests against proposed tax increases and inequality last year, and saying it will stop awarding exploration contracts to oil companies as part of a plan to lessen reliance on the oil revenue country.
The second most popular candidate in the polls is Rodolfo Hernández, a real estate tycoon and former mayor of the city of Bucaramanga, who has promised to sweep out corrupt bureaucrats and also said in a meeting with the US ambassador to Colombia that he would like to legalize drugs, as part of an effort to reduce violence in the country.
The FARC, which kidnapped Ingrid Betancourt in 2002 and long financed its operations with drug money, signed a peace agreement with the Colombian government in 2016.
But rebel groups such as the National Liberation Army and the reticent FARC groups that refused to sign the peace agreement continue to fight over drug trafficking routes, illegal mines and other assets in rural areas of the country where homicides have increased and the forced displacement of civilians.
Betancourt said he would fight crime and show that Colombia can “change course.” She added that each week she would invite her supporters to “have a beer” with her at her campaign headquarters.
“We’ll split the cost,” he said, after being asked who would foot the bill.
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism