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Geopolitics

Betancourt Is Back, Again! Former Hostage Can Set Colombian Politics Free

With a personal history of suffering and a humane discourse, the liberal Ingrid Betancourt's return to Colombian politics, even if not a presidential candidate next year, may prompt voters to shun the extremes.

Colombian former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt

Colombian former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt

Gonzalo Mallarino Flórez

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — I am glad Ingrid Betancourt — once a disruptor of political corruption in Colombia who aspired to be president in 2002, only to end up for six years a hostage in the jungle — has returned to politics ahead of the 2022 presidential elections.

When I think of her, I see the image many have seen, which show her despondent and emaciated after years of unjust confinement at the hands of the communist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). But the famous image also reveals her enduring resolve.


She is seated with her head inclined, her long hair that retains its sheen, and a perfectly oval face as she had in her youth as a fiery politician who fought against corruption.

 She knows violence

It was the nadir of her fortunes and she looked intensely spiritual. She was a picture of resignation, reminiscent of a grieving Virgin from the Renaissance. Many years had to pass before she could appease the hurt, anxiety and despair she must have felt in captivity, and find the strength in her heart and body to once more defend certain political ideals in her country. It could not have happened overnight. She even felt the need to exile herself abroad, in her "other" homeland, France.

She seeks no personal glory

That is why I believe in her so much as a voice in our political scenario. She has suffered — personally and physically — the horror of our violence, as her book testifies in detail. But she has returned with serenity and a conciliatory, almost loving, vision of Colombia and its future. No more shouting, histrionics, nor preaching and curses.

The first and most intelligent thing she has done was to avoid another run for the presidency. She seeks no personal glory in this. No. That is not her ambition. She has a certain idea of Colombia — a possible, hypothetical Colombia — which she shares with so many of her fellow citizens. It is a noble vision that merits a struggle, because it encompasses peace, justice and decency.

INGRID BETANCOURT (2nd R), who was captured as hostage in February 2002 during a presidential campaign, speaks beside her mother (1st L),

Ingrid Betancourt speaks beside her mother, the Commander of Colombia's armed forces General, and Defense Minister

UPPA/ZUMA

Compassion from the center

And as she is not a pre-candidate, she has managed to unite and complement those who are in that sector of politics we call the center. It is the middle ground, a promising, libertarian, honest point in the political spectrum that does not conceal or disguise what it says, nor hungers or thirsts for secretive, shameful desires. No.

Will we be able to stand another four, wasted years?

It has none of the rancor of the extreme left nor the meanness of the extreme right. These are the infernal extremes one must escape, and she is clear on that. At least that is my impression. I may sound an idealist or naive here, but that is how I feel and am holding onto the feeling for dear life. Will we be able to stand another four, wasted years like these ones? Four more years of bland complacency, indolence, of deceit and pretense on the side of the government? For the country, it might prove to be a calamity.

I believe that ultimately the elections will be what they've always been: a showdown between conservative and reactionary thought on one side, and liberal, progressive thought on the other. Without artificial distractions or a noisy sideshow, we may see that liberals outnumber conservatives.

The possibility that this can being tested and asserted in the next elections, no less, is what Ingrid has achieved with her return to national politics.


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Society

How India’s Women Are Fighting Air Pollution — And The Patriarchy

India is one of the world's worst countries for air pollution, with women more likely to be affected by the problem than men. Now, experts and activists are fighting to reframe pollution as a gendered health crisis.

A woman walking through dense fog in New Delhi

*Saumya Kalia

MUMBAI In New Delhi, a city that has topped urban air-pollution charts in recent years, Shakuntala describes a discomfort that has become too familiar. Surrounded by bricks and austere buildings, she tells an interviewer: "The eyes burn and it becomes difficult to breathe". She is referring to the noxious fumes she routinely breathes as a construction worker.

Like Shakuntala, women’s experiences of polluted air fill every corner of their lives – inside homes, in parks and markets, on the way to work. Ambient air in most districts in India has never been worse than it is today. As many as 1.67 million people in the country die prematurely due to polluted air. It is India’s second largest health risk after malnutrition.

This risk of exposure to air pollution is compounded for women. Their experiences of toxic air are more frequent and often more hazardous. Yet “policies around air quality have not yet adequately taken into account gender or other factors that might influence people’s health,” Pallavi Pant, a senior scientist at the Health Effects Institute, a nonprofit in the U.S., told The Wire Science.

“It’s unacceptable that the biggest burden [rests on] those who can least bear it,” Sherebanu Frosh, an activist, added. People like her are building a unique resistance within India.

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