Ingrid Betancourt was kidnapped by the FARC for six years

For six years, her name has regularly appeared in the media and you see calls from Ingrid Betancourt’s family. On July 3, 2008, she was finally released by the FARC. What is the story behind Ingrid Betancourt, but also who or what is behind the FARC that held her captive for six years?

Who is Ingrid Betancourt?

Ingrid Betancourt was born in 1961, the daughter of the Colombian ambassador to UNESCO. Her mother was once a beauty queen but later became a parliamentarian in Colombo.
The assassination of presidential candidate Luis Carlos in 1989 made a deep impression on her. From that moment on, she decides that she must take up the torch of this morally unyielding man. And so she responds to her political calling. Until then, she had led an unremarkable life as the wife of a French diplomat and mother of two children.

Candidate for President

This results in membership of parliament. By opposing the unworthy political class, she risks her own life. A drug mafia that had close ties to the ruling political class commits an attack on Betancourt, which fortunately she survives.
While campaigning for president in 2002, she was kidnapped and held hostage by FARC for six years. From that moment on, she is held in an unknown place , initially together with her campaign leader Clara Rojas. Rojas was released on January 10, 2008, along with another captured woman. Rojas testified that she has not seen Betancourt in 3 years: they were separated for ,safety reasons., Rojas had meanwhile had a child from one of the rebels.

Geuzen medal

In 2004, Princess Máxima presented the Geuzen Medal to Betancourt. This was received by her mother. She received the Geuzen Medal for her fight against violence, corruption and her personal commitment to the poor in Colombian society.

Prisoner exchange

The French government lobbied for the release of Ingrid Betancourt for a long time. Dominique de Villepin, former Minister of Foreign Affairs, even personally initiates a rescue operation for her. Unfortunately, the French army vehicle was discovered at the Colombian border in the Brazilian jungle.

The failed rescue attempt caused Paris to withdraw until Sarkozy took office last year. He took a different approach and involved Hugo Chávez to initiate a prisoner exchange with him. For example, Colombian President Uribe was put under pressure and could not refuse. However, the collaboration did not last long. Ulribe was fired because he did not keep to the agreements. In response, the FARC, as a show of support for the Venezuelan leader, surrendered a total of seven hostages to Chávez at the end of 2007.

Uribe did not respond to the demand to once again exempt a militarized area for the FARC. But chose to push the guerrilla group further on the defensive militarily. And that turned out to be successful. In March, the guerrilla movement lost three of its top commanders, including FARC founder and CEO Manuel Marulanda.


On July 3, 2008, French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt was released. Together with fourteen other hostages, she was freed from the FARC by a special elite unit of the Colombian army. That happened near the jungle city of San José del Guaviare. In addition to Ingrid Betancourt (46) and the three Americans, Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell and Thomas Homes, eleven local hostages were freed. Betancourt appears to be in good health, considering the circumstances. Despite numerous rumors that she was seriously ill (hepatitis B is said to have affected her liver and she is said to have leishmaniasis, a skin condition caused by a parasite). Betancourt stated that she lived in chains for three years and was tortured. The FARC chains its prisoners to humiliate him/her. Betancourt said: ‘You can’t treat a person like that. I wouldn’t treat a person like that, maybe not even a plant.’ She later told the media: ‘There was no sun, no sky, just a green roof. The walls were made of trees with bugs everywhere you looked. It was a hostile world with dangerous animals everywhere. Death is the hostage’s truest companion’. She does not want to say much more than that about the captivity and torture. She is considering writing a book, but finds the things that happened too nasty to tell everyone. Her Catholic faith has kept her going.


As usual in these types of hostage cases, rumors of ransom quickly spread. A fairly reliable source has stated that $20 million was paid to the FARC. Betancourt’s three fellow prisoners are said to be infiltrated by the FBI and therefore important pawns for the US. The situation surrounding the liberation of the prisoners was staged to please President Uribe so he can take credit. These rumors have not been confirmed nor denied by the Americans.

The supporters

The four foreign hostages naturally attracted the most attention outside Colombia, with Betancourt as the most important number one. Thanks to her family, who very effectively mobilized the press and international public opinion. They did this by continuously organizing numerous demonstrations and issuing constant cries for help about Betancourt’s poor health. She became perhaps the most famous hostage in the world.

Weakened position

Betancourt’s release has put an end to years of suffering under inhumane conditions. The dynamics of the Colombian conflict are changing significantly. The loss of the only four foreign hostages has greatly weakened the negotiating position. Betancourt and the three Americans have been the main reason for the Colombian government (President Álvaro Uribe) to continue discussions with the FARC in recent years.

More hopeless

The future of the FARC looks increasingly hopeless. She lost her credit among the citizens years ago. Since Marulanda’s death, the various blocs have had increasing difficulty in maintaining contact with each other due to military pressure. Hundreds of dissatisfied FARC members desert every month.
In addition, the freedom of movement of the group members is severely limited by the detention and movement of hostages. This not only concerns the dozens of authorities, but also the hundreds of ordinary hostages for whom ransom is demanded. Hopefully, after the liberation of Betancourt, more attention will be paid to these unknown hostages.

Background information

They call themselves the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Spanish: Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de ColombiaEjército del Pueblo, FARC or FARC-EP).
The FARC was founded at the beginning of the Colombian Civil War (1964-1966) and grew into a communist, revolutionary organization. Who also had access to illegal weapons. This organization is seen as a military wing of the communist parties. The FARC is one of the longest-standing rebel groups in South America. The guerrilla group consists of approximately 12,000 to 18,000 members. It is estimated that 20 to 30% are under 18 years of age. The FARC is mainly active in the southeastern jungles and also in areas at the foot of the Andes.

Initially for the people and against the US

With the ideals of fighting for the people and against the United States, the FARC was not founded in principle to do harm or exercise power. That only started in the 1980s. The organization had come into contact with illegal drug trafficking. Not all members were happy with this and the organization was split as a result. From then on, the FARC operated under a new structure called the Clandestine Colombian Communist Party. The Colombian government and world powers such as the UN, US and EU, but also other countries, described this organization as terrorists. This was because the actions were not only aimed at the government, but also at citizens and infrastructure.

From 1982, the FARC added EP (Ejército del Pueblo) to the name. This expressed the expectation that the movement would make progress on traditional military techniques. They present themselves as a political-military Marxist-Leninist movement. They are for the poor and against the United States, they say. But the fight is mainly against the Plan Colombia that privatizes natural resources and against Colombia’s multinationals. Proceeds from the drug trade and kidnappings make them financially independent.

In 1988, then-president Andrés Pastrana made a deal with the FARC. Pastrana was supported by the FAR C during the elections. In return, the FARC received a demilitarized area of approximately 42,000 km. This lasted until 2002. A final peace treaty would be signed at some point. However, Manuel Marulanda of the FARC still did not respond and failed to attend. In response, Pastrana ordered the demilitarized area to be reclaimed.

Child soldiers

Like many illegal parties, the FARC regularly recruits children, some as young as 8, as soldiers and informants. First they are mentally broken by forcibly killing a close family member or an unreliable member of the FARC. There are also children who have offered themselves because their poor situation offered the child no other way out. It is estimated that the FARC has the most child soldiers within its organization. Most are around 12 years old. Escape is impossible and is punished by severe torture that can lead to death. Sometimes they are simply shot dead, for example by another child to mentally break them. And as a warning to the other children.

The Dutch Tanja Nijmeijer

Tanja Nijmeijer (Denekamp) is, as far as we know, the only Dutch person who has become a member of the FARC since 2002. She was brought here because of the poverty she was confronted with. She uses the pseudonym Eileen or Ellen. She works as an interpreter within the FARC. According to the diaries found during a raid in 2007, she also takes part in violent armed actions. It is unclear whether she has been or will be punished by the FARC. There are rumors that she would participate in a documentary about the FARC, this would be part of her punishment. The NOVA program was supposed to have a meeting with her, but this was canceled because she was based too far away. It is also suggested that the diaries were only distributed to ‘scare’ others (foreigners).

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