In 2002, Ingrid Betancourt was running for Colombia’s presidency when she was kidnapped by leftist FARC guerillas and held in difficult captivity for six years along with fourteen other hostages. The group was freed by Colombian soldiers in the summer in 2008, and Betancourt has just published a book about her ordeal.
Betancourt is from an old and patrician Colombian family, and she has managed to rub a lot of people the wrong way. She tried to sue the Colombian government for damages for failing to prevent her kidnapping, despite the fact that it was that government who ultimately rescued her. Some of her fellow hostages have spoken out against her, a highly unusual practice for fellow-captives:
Clara Rojas, who was kidnapped with Betancourt in 2002, has claimed [Betancourt's] book contains “lies and spite” regarding Ms. Rojas’s decision to have a child while held captive.
Rojas isn’t the only one with a bone to pick with Betancourt:
One of the American prisoners claimed that she was haughty, self-absorbed, stole their food, hoarded books, and risked their lives by informing the guards that they were CIA.
Keith Stansell, 44, a former Marine, told Associated Press: “I watched her try to take over the camp with an arrogance that was out of control. Some of the guards treated us better than she did.”
But for me, this was one of the more telling comments by Betancourt:
Betancourt says her time in captivity dispelled any romantic illusions she had about the FARC and their mission. “I am of a generation where we like Che Guevara, you know, the very romantic kind of revolution thing,” she says. “And in a way, I thought that the FARC was kind of a romantic rebellion against a system that I didn’t like either.”
But in captivity, she says she came to realize that the FARC was nothing more than the military wing of Colombia’s drug cartels. “It was as corrupt as the system; it wasn’t a response to the problems we have in Colombia.”
Lucky for her she wasn’t captured by Che himself. I am stunned at the woman’s previous ignorance and naivete; she seems to be one of those people who might say “Tengo una remera del Che y no sé por qué” (“I have a Che T-shirt and I don’t know why”). As I wrote :
That seems to be what it’s come down to: Che as poster boy (literally). Vargas Llosa calls him “the socialist heartthrob in his beret.” Perhaps that’s all he is now to most of those who sport his dark and brooding image on their “mugs, hoodies, lighters, key chains, wallets, baseball caps, toques, bandannas, tank tops, club shirts, couture bags, denim jeans, herbal tea, and of course those omnipresent T-shirts.”
Che’s visage has had remarkable staying power; I remember it was already in vogue when I was in college. He’s been dead for thirty-eight years now, and the legend only grows–although, if he hadn’t been good-looking and photogenic, he’d probably be an obscure footnote to history by this time.
Although Che is far from forgotten, his true history is. How many of those sporting reproductions of his photo as a fashion statement know much about what he actually stood for and the crimes he perpetrated? For in fact, as the article’s title indicates, he was quite the “killing machine.”
I wonder whether Betancourt still finds Guevara to be a romantic and likable figure, or whether she’s brushed up on her historical awareness of the actual man and not the image.
And, in a delicious irony, some of her rescuers—who posed as aid workers and fellow guerillas in a clever operation designed to trick FARC into thinking they were confederates undertaking a transfer of the hostages to a new location—wore Che Guevara T-shirts:
As [Betancourt] looked closer, she saw that the men from the helicopter were wearing shirts emblazoned with the likeness of Che Guevara, the Argentine hero of the Cuban revolution. “I thought, this is FARC,” she said.
Placed in handcuffs, Betancourt got into the helicopter, still unaware of what was happening. “They closed the helicopter doors, the helicopter started flying and suddenly there was something happening,” she said.
“Suddenly I saw the commander who, during four years, had been at the head of our team, who so many times was so cruel and humiliated me, and I saw him on the floor naked with bound eyes.”
Then, the reality of her liberation hit home.
[Hat tip: Althouse.]