By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
After six years in captivity, fame handicaps French-Colombian hostage Betancourt
Ingrid Betancourt's daughter Melanie Delloye-Betancourt stands next to a bus bearing the most recent photo of French-Colombian hostage Ingrid Betancourt, Friday, Feb. 22, 2008 in Paris. Betancourt, 46, who was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, will mark her sixth year as a hostage on Saturday, Feb. 23, 2008. - photo by Associated Press
    BOGOTA, Colombia — Through public spectacle and private diplomacy, the French government and the family of Ingrid Betancourt have succeeded in drawing the world’s attention to her lengthy captivity in the Colombian jungle. But many in Colombia say such fame may work against her hopes of freedom.
    As Betancourt, 46, marks six years on Saturday as a captive of leftist rebels, relatives plan to pray for her liberation at a public Mass while commemorations are planned across France. Her mother recently gained an audience with Pope Benedict XVI, and French officials have promoted her cause in frequent trips to the region.
    The vigorous lobbying for Betancourt’s freedom seeks to pressure Colombia’s government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, to agree to swap dozens of FARC-held hostages for hundreds of jailed rebels, including two in U.S. prisons.
    But Colombians are beginning to say bluntly what many have whispered in private — that Betancourt’s fame may backfire, and that the Paris-raised politician and fearless anti-corruption crusader could be one of the last hostages freed.
    ‘‘Without justifying this atrocity by the FARC, the person who has most contributed to the fact that Ingrid has been turned in to this valuable merchandise, this ‘‘jewel in the crown,’’ and so put up obstacles to her freedom, is her mother and the way she has behaved,’’ Gen. Freddy Padilla, commander of Colombia’s armed forces, said in an interview with Semana magazine last month.
    Padilla compared Yolanda Pulecio’s lobbying for her daughter’s freedom to the quieter campaign to free her aide Clara Rojas, who was kidnapped with her boss on Feb. 23, 2002, and finally released last month.
    ‘‘In contrast, the mother of Clara Rojas used the instrument of prudence,’’ Padilla was quoted as saying.
    Betancourt’s current husband and mother say they’re being blamed for her plight because of their criticisms of the Colombian government’s seeming reluctance to reach out to the rebels.
    ‘‘If we hadn’t done anything, the government would not be feeling this pressure from around the world to make a deal with the FARC,’’ said Juan Carlos Lecompte, Betancourt’s husband when she was kidnapped.
    ‘‘The mothers of soldiers kidnapped 10 years ago have come to us and said, ’Thanks for your work for Ingrid, because now the world is talking about an agreement.’ Before Ingrid’s kidnapping the government wasn’t doing anything to get these hostages freed.’’
    Indeed, in six years, President Alvaro Uribe’s government has not had a single face-to-face meeting with the FARC. That’s a radical departure from the previous administration of Andres Pastrana, which ceded a Switzerland-sized safe haven to the FARC for three years until talks collapsed.
    Betancourt is one of 44 high-profile hostages, including three U.S. defense contractors, that the FARC is offering to free in a prisoner swap. While the government and the rebels agree in general terms on the idea of a swap, negotiations have never commenced as both sides bicker over conditions.
    ‘‘The presence of Ingrid has internationalized the search for an agreement,’’ said Leon Valencia, a political analyst.
    The FARC, which has been fighting for more than four decades for a more equitable distribution of wealth in Colombia, seeks first to be removed from the European Union’s list of international terror groups, a goal endorsed by President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who has been trying to gain international legitimacy for the rebels.
    The French, Spanish and Swiss governments have, meanwhile, tried to mediate more hostage releases, and the FARC is promising to free another four.
    France’s foreign minister, Bernard Kouchner, met Thursday with Uribe and said that he was not in Colombia just for Ingrid.
    ‘‘It’s necessary that we consider indispensable the liberation of all hostages,’’ said Kouchner.
    Betancourt, meanwhile, is buckling in captivity, Lecompte says, citing her letter to her mother that was made public in December.
    In the letter, the last word on her condition, Betancourt she was losing the will to live.
    ‘‘We know we don’t have months or years to save her,’’ Lecompte said. ‘‘We’re talking days or weeks.’’

Sign up for the Herald's free e-newsletter