Writing Heroes – Ingrid Betancourt

book-001I read a book a few years ago called Even Silence Has an End by Ingrid Betancourt. I don’t remember much of the book, only impressions. One event in the book stayed with me though. I’ll never forget it. I’ll come to that later.

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Betancourt, forty one in 2002, and a presidential candidate, was abducted by FARC, a guerrilla organisation in Colombia. She had given up a life of comfort and safety to become a political leader. She spent six-and-a-half-years in the depths of the jungle, walked hundreds of miles, often chained, day and night. She tried to escape several times, often succeeding, only to be recaptured.

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I still have my impressions from the book. FARC were mostly stupid and brutal; they recruited from the very poorest and brainwashed them into hating their captors – very basic class warfare. The captors were moved often, always being hundreds of miles from safety. Any escape involved negotiating almost impossible, dangerous terrain through the jungle. She made friends and enemies along the way.

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She struck me as being a very determined, brave woman. There were times when she made herself unpopular with her fellow captors. I’m not sure why, although I can imagine she could be a dominant personality, constantly persuading her co-captors to action rather than lethargy and safety-first – a wait-and-see attitude.

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She and all the captives suffered a great deal. The FARC guerrillas were generally unintelligent and spiteful, not glamorous at all, and politically indoctrinated against any independent thought, even if they were capable of it. Few of them could read or write. There were decent people among them, but not many – much the same as society, I suppose.

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The book is a great read. I’m not sure how popular it became (it was published in 2010), but it certainly deserved popularity. Betancourt’s tells a story of suffering, courage and eventually triumph that is beyond the imagining of anybody who has not been in her situation.

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The event I referred to earlier occurred about half-way through the book. There were many captives of many nationalities; there was often tension between them: petty jealousies, getting upset over silly things, not knowing who to trust. According to Betancourt, she remained above it all, although I’m sure she could be forceful. Earlier one of the female captives had become pregnant by one of the guerrillas. She had escaped earlier with Betancourt but, as always, they had been re-captured. She was a strange woman. At the time of this incident the prisoners did not even know where she was; she had been taken away, presumably for medical treatment.

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One day some of the captors insisted that Betancourt be moved from their compound. It was sheer nastiness. I’m not sure why they behaved like that. Perhaps they objected to her positivity – I don’t know. There was constant bickering. She was moved to another area of the camp, the chicken run, where she found the pregnant woman, eight months gone, living alone. Later another captive joined them, also banished for sticking up for her.

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They lived quite well. The pregnant woman wanted Betancourt to be the baby’s godmother; the other captive loved the absence of tension away from the main compound,

“I can’t bear the thought of going back to that prison”

he said. Echoing his fear, a guard arrived:
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Your fellow prisoners have been complaining because one of the guards told them that you have better living conditions than they do. They want you back.
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Betancourt says that she felt she was entering the gates of hell when she was returned to the main compound.

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“You didn’t stay away long” hissed one of her companions. “I’m sure you missed us” replied Betancourt’s male friend, returned also, “maybe it was you who insisted we come back”. A man sniggered:

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Well, we too have some influence.

This was by far the most shocking incident of the book for me. Many awful things happened during the prisoners’ six-and-a-half years of captivity. None of us knows how we would react to the terrible and traumatic experiences without actually having to go through it. But to banish someone from the main compound is perhaps just silly. To then hear that they might be better off and insist that they be brought back defies belief. It is the height of malicious jealousy.

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I told a few people of the incident after reading it. The most popular response was “Well, we don’t know how we would react in those circumstances.” That’s true. There are many incidents in the book where I don’t know how I would react. I don’t know if I would have the courage to try to escape. I don’t know what attitude I would take to my captors, to my fellow prisoners. I would like to think that I would remain positive and make the best of whatever happened. But we just don’t know until we have suffered the same exhaustion, pain and trauma that all the captives did.

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But one thing I’m sure of. If Betancourt was moved and found herself better off, I’d merely have thought “Good luck to her”. To insist she be returned was madness, nothing to do with their general circumstances of captivity. It was spiteful, stupid, jealous and petty.

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I won’t reveal the nationality of the people who insisted she be returned. That would be unfair. There were three main culprits. In the event it was a minor incident for Betancourt, who was eventually rescued by the Colombian military. I’m sure that sort of captivity would bring out the worst in all of us, perhaps the best too. Hopefully, we will never know.

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One thing I’m sure of though: I would not have banished Betancourt in the first place, and I most definitely would not have insisted she be returned because I merely suspected that she might be happier wherever she was. Unbelievable.

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What do you think?

chriscuba-001

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