Home News Political Hostage Honoured

Political Hostage Honoured

by Archives September 29, 2009

A former Colombian presidential candidate, who spent years as a hostage in the Colombian jungle, was honoured in Montreal for her efforts in fighting corruption. Ingrid Betancourt spoke to a crowd of mostly university students, Saturday during a ceremony where she was presented an honorary doctorate from Université de Montréal. She was captured in February 2002 by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a Marxist rebel group considered to be a terrorist organization by Canada. She was finally freed by a Colombian military operation in July 2008, almost 6 and a half years later.
Despite her ordeal, Betancourt spoke compassionately about several of her captors, some of whom were as young as 13 years old. “99 per cent of the time they were there because they had no other choice,” she said. “They are at the mercy of powers that abuse them. So they become part of the system.”
She asked the audience to consider this: “They didn’t have a chance to get your education. I know those boys and girls would love to be here with you.”
Betancourt was captured during her 2002 presidential run, while campaigning in the small Colombian village of St-Vicente. She was denied a military escort to the area, which she said she thought was a deliberate attempt by government rivals to stifle her movements. She referenced this when she was asked what lessons students could draw from her ordeal.
“What to do? Do I go to St-Vicente and speak? I then run the risk of being taken. I told myself I would never be taken hostage. But if I didn’t go, I would have accepted [the government’s] limitations. The decision I took cost me greatly. It cost me six years of horror. But if I had turned back, I don’t know how I would have felt today. What I want to say to the youth here today, is that when you have the choice, always choose the path of principle.”
Since her release, Betancourt has won accolades from around the world for her humanitarian efforts. On Wednesday, she was given Quebec’s Medal of Honour from the National Assembly. While she is still best known for her efforts within Colombia, Saturday she spoke on an international scale about combating terrorism.
“We have to appeal to the human side of the terrorists. We cannot be tolerant of their attacks or their cruelty,” Betancourt said. “But I believe refusing dialogue with terrorists is a mistake. I want to respond with love and friendship.”

Related Articles

Leave a Comment