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Colombia: Uproar After Former FARC Hostage Íngrid Betancourt Seeks Compensation

On the morning of Friday July 9, Caracol Radio broke the story [es]: former presidential candidate and French-Colombian citizen Íngrid Betancourt –rescued two years ago (during the so-called Operation Jaque) after being kidnapped by FARC in 2002– and her family (her mother Yolanda Pulecio and her children Lorenzo and Mélanie) were claiming 12.5 billion Colombian pesos (US$6,690,000 / €5,280,000) as a compensation for her 6-year captivity (a legal procedure known as conciliación in Spanish, which if unsuccessful would lead to a lawsuit against the state). Ms Betancourt claimed the Colombian state failed to provide adequate protection for her to travel to the zone where the guerrilla eventually kidnapped her.

Íngrid Betancourt in Pisa, Italy, September 2008

Íngrid Betancourt in Pisa, Italy, on September 2008. Photo by Flickr user fabiogis50 (Fabio Gismondi), used under a Creative Commons licence.

The news were met with outrage and some skepticism. Government officials of the Andrés Pastrana administration claimed the then presidential candidate was warned about the risks of traveling to the demilitarized zone which the FARC had received in 1999 to start a failed peace process that ended early 2002. Eventually, the DAS intelligence agency would reveal a document [es] signed by Ms Betancourt's security coordinator where she was advised against entering the area.

The Colombian twittosphere quickly reacted to the story, with most users slamming Ms Betancourt and some even making fun of her by coining terms such as “ingrititud” (Íngrid + ingratitud, Spanish for ingratitude) or “Ingreed” (Íngrid + the English word ‘greed’). A few users, however, thought her request was fair. Here is a sample of the reactions as seen on Twitter:

@IvanLecter

Una cosa es señalar el oportunismo y otra empezar a destilar odio. #colombianidadpura

One thing is pointing out opportunism and another is starting to exude hate. #colombianidadpura

@anameretriz

Si fuera otro de los secuestrados “no importantes” sí demandaría al Estado por liberarme sólo cuando les conviene y no cuando han podido.

If I were one of the “unimportant” kidnapped I would sue the State for rescuing me only when it's convenient for them and not when they could.

@Oyerista

Si IngridB tuviera Twitter, ya habría demandado a la ballena

If ÍngridB had a twitter account, she'd had sued the fail whale.

@monicaeche

Entiendo q digan q Ingrid es oportunista, pero no q demanda x cualquier cosa. Supongo q a uds les pasa cosas más terribles q un secuestro.

I understand you say Íngrid is an opportunist, but not that she's suing for anything. I guess things more awful than being kidnapped happen to you.

@jsromerol

A mi Ingrid me parece frívola, manipuladora y utilitarista. Pero Colombiano que dejen pudrir en la selva tiene derecho a q lo indemnicen.

I think Íngrid is frivolous, manipulative, and utilitarian. But any Colombian which was left to rot in the jungle has the right to be compensated.

@simonwilchesc

Ingrid se ha vuelto tan detestable y oportunista, que ahora depronto sí logra ser presidenta de Colombia.

Íngrid has become so obnoxious and opportunist, that now she maybe manages to become president of Colombia.

@MaisAngel (1, 2)

Para mí Ingrid Betanc[o]ur[t] no es una ingrata. El Estado no le hizo un favor rescatándola, era una obligación hacerlo. Otra cosa es que ella sea oportunista e interesada. Pero el Estado no rescata gente por querida o antipática, es una obligación.

To me, Íngrid Betancourt is not an ungrateful person. The State didn't do her a favor by rescuing her, it was their duty to do it. Another thing is her being opportunist and selfish. But the State doesn't rescue people because they're nice or unfriendly, it's their duty.

@Tuiteretera

Me cuentan que los de las FARC están ofendidos con Ingrititud,les parece el colmo que ellos la secuestren y sea ella quien cobre el rescate

I was told that FARC guys are offended with Íngridtude, they think it's too much that they kidnap her and she's the one getting the money for the ransom.

@stultaviro

¿Qué es aquello tan valioso que hace #IngridBetancourt que pretende cobrarnos 6.5 millones de pesos por cada día que pasó secuestrada?

What's that valuable thing #IngridBetancourt does that she wants to charge us 6.5 million pesos (US$3,480 / €2,750) for each day she spent in captivity?

@Filipogs

¿suicidio político lo de Íngrid? comentario más risible, para que aquí un político muera políticamente también debe morir clínicamente.

Political suicide for Íngrid? Quite an amusing comment, here for a politician to die ‘politically’ they must also die ‘clinically’

@AMAV

Porque si algo saben hacer los Betancourt y los Pulecio es vivir del Estado… Francés, colombiano, qué más da. Detalles menores.

Because if there's something the Betancourts and the Pulecios know how to do is live at the expense of the State… the French, the Colombian, it's all the same. Minor details.

@Ciudadanita

Si la desigualdad, la corrupcion, las mafias -armadas y economicas- causaran un 50% d indignacion q lo de Ingrid #TampocoMeSimpatizaIngrid

If only inequality, corruption, the -armed and economic- mafias caused 50% of the uproar Íngrid does… #IdontlikeIngrideither

On Sunday night, Caracol TV and Caracol Radio broadcast simultaneously an exclusive interview [video, es] with Ms Betancourt, where she states she actually did not want to file a lawsuit against the Colombian state, but rather wished to bring legitimacy to the claims of terrorism victims that are seeking compensation from the government. She added that the high and “absurd” sum of money requested was “symbolic.” (Coincidentally [es], Caracol TV is the distributor of a Spanish-Colombian mini-series [es] about Operation Jaque set to broadcast later this year).

The issue has also been discussed on some blogs. Catalina Velasco defends [es] Ms Betancourt's demands for reparation, and is surprised by how much she seems to be hated in Colombia:

En primer lugar, parece que acudir a la justicia no es una práctica que veamos con buenos ojos. Altos funcionarios del gobierno se han pronunciado con indignación rechazando la intención de Madame Betancur. Y de igual manera los medios de comunicación, varios columnistas y muchos colombianos han criticado su actuación. Y creo que estamos equivocados porque en este país afortunadamente todos los ciudadanos tenemos derecho a pedirle a los jueces (o a la Procuraduría en busca de conciliación como es el caso) las pretensiones que consideremos ajustadas a la ley. De manera especial las víctimas de la guerra para quienes la reparación directa es un derecho.

First, it seems that we don't see turning to justice as an acceptable practice. Top Government officials have declared themselves, with outrage, against the intentions of Madame [Betancourt]. And in a similar way the media, several columnists and many Colombians have criticized her conduct. And I think we are wrong because, fortunately, in this country all citizens have the right to present to our judges (or the Solicitor General's Office seeking a settlement as in this case) the claims we consider lawful[,] specially the victims of the war, for whom direct reparation is a right.

Velasco concludes her post by adding that, after watching the televised interview, “[her] impression is that [Betancourt] wants to come back to the politics arena and she's asking to become part of [president-elect Juan Manuel Santos's] National Unity. “

Journalist Ricardo Galán criticizes [es] both Ms Betancourt and her interviewer, veteran radio host Darío Arizmendi:

No creo una palabra de lo que dijo Ingrid en su entrevista con Dario Arismendi en simultánea nacional y espacio Triple A en Caracol Radio y TV. No le puedo creer porque faltaron preguntas importantes y fue evidente el interés de Ingrid por desviar la entrevista hacia lo que pasó el día de su secuestro y no por hacer claridad sobre los detalles de su reclamación.

I don't believe a word of what Íngrid said on her interview with Darío Ari[z]mendi in national simultaneous primetime broadcasts on Caracol Radio and TV. I can't believe her because important questions were missing and it was evident that Íngrid was interested in diverting the interview toward what happened the day she was kidnapped instead of clarifying the details of her claim.

Meanwhile, Bárbara Morales concludes asking with distrust [es]:

No nos llamemos a engaños. Ingrid no juega a ganarse la simpatía de nadie, incluso parece estarse poniendo en un sitio muy difícil ante la opinión pública. ¿Descubriremos qué hay detrás o solo nos encontraremos con otro velo?

Let's not be fooled. Íngrid's not playing to win anyone's affection, she even seems to be putting herself in a difficult place in front of the public opinion. Will we discover what's behind that or will we just run into another veil?

On Tuesday morning, Ms Betancourt's lawyer announced she will withdraw her claim. Still, the issue could have unintended consequences after the uproar it caused, as @carloscuentero's concern [es] reflects:

Me preocupa que el episodio de Íngrid cause un ‘linchamiento’ generalizado hacia las víctimas que reclaman atención del Estado.

I'm worried that the Íngrid episode causes a general ‘lynching’ towards the victims claiming attention from the State.

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