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Ingrid Betancourt, A Hostage Heroine Reinvented As Feminist For President

Although Betancourt is best known for surviving six years as a hostage of the Colombian terror group FARC, and is considered a centrist politician, her unlikely new campaign for president will be centered on gender issues.

photo of Betancourt pointing at the camera

Betancourt in Bogota announcing her candidacy Tuesday

Chepa Beltran/LongVisual via ZUMA
Felipe García Altamar


BOGOTA — Exactly 20 years after she was kidnapped by the FARC terror group in the middle of her campaign for Colombian president, Íngrid Betancourt is launching a new campaign to lead her nation. She will do so on behalf of her party, Verde Oxígeno, becoming the only female candidate from the Centro Esperanza Coalition (CCE), which for months received a barrage of criticism for grouping only male candidacies and traditional politicians.

So the announcement can be taken as the move for a boost for the center alliance that, according to the polls, still does not provide a sufficient counterweight to those who lead voting intention. Betancourt, 60, is a prominent female figure, key to a project that is committed to transforming, overcoming polarization, and, as its name indicates, giving hope to Colombia.

Central to her new campaign will once again be the fight against corruption; but also, new this time, is her commitment to put gender issues at the center of the nation's political agenda.

A journey of pain

Betancourt's surprise announcement at a Tuesday press conference stressed that the coalition required a female presence and "a person who spoke in a different way." Indeed the 60-year-old, who spent more than six years as a hostage of the leftist militia, referenced her dramatic biography several times in the announcement speech.

“I carry Colombia in my heart in a different way because my life has been different. It is a journey of pain, but also of hope and faith, which millions of Colombians have also experienced," she said. "And like me, they have not given up."

It is worth recalling it here too: on Feb. 23, 2002, during the presidential campaign (in which conservative Álvaro Uribe would go on to be elected for the first time) in a trip to the Amazonian municipality of San Vicente del Caguán, Betancourt, who'd been a prominent Colombian Senator, was kidnapped by armed members of FARC.

photo of Betancourt blowing a kiss

Betancourt after her dramatic release in 2008


Anti-corruption warrior

In addition to recalling episodes of captivity, she is focused on an anti-corruption and feminist agenda, adding that it will not be an "intellectual or outdated feminism."

Currently there are two other female presidential candidates, Francia Márquez and Arelis Uriana, both in the leftist Pacto Histórico, or Historical Pact, coalition.

On the anti-corruption agenda, which was central to her candidacy 20 years ago, she emphasized that her entry into the presidential race is to finish what she started. “I come to claim the rights of the 51 million Colombians who cannot find justice because we live in a country that guarantees impunity," she said. "This system wants us to accept our destiny, that it is impossible to defeat corruption, that this is our culture, that this is how we are, that we all benefit from cheating and bribery, and it wants us to become cynical, opportunistic, crooked. We will not be that."

Almost instantly, critics responded. Critics on social media railed against the candidacy, with many noting that she'd been absent from national politics for many years, despite the fact that in 2018 she reappeared to support Gustavo Petro.

The gender card

What could be decisive is to see what Betancourt can offer on gender issues, which is one of the reasons why her coalition insisted on her entering the electoral arena. In this regard, Angélica Bernal, a political science professor at the Tadeo University, pointed out that it may be a bad bet, given that it is not an issue that has been part of Betancourt's agenda in the past, and that most people identify her more with the fight against corruption and environmental issues.

Women who felt like political orphans will now have someone to look to.

“Gender issues have never been visible in her public appearances, so it is strange that they want to link her figure with a gender agenda," Bernal said. "But for a coalition made up of men, a woman can help show them to be less stuffy, anachronistic and more connected to the priorities of the public debate.”

Juliana Hernández de la Torre, director of Artemisas, a political feminist NGO, celebrated the nomination and said that Betancourt's presence and focus on gender issues will give them unprecedented visibility.

"It changes the electoral landscape because women who felt like political orphans will now have someone to look to,” she said.

Betancourt's presidential aspiration gives air to the center coalition, but now a new struggle begins, which is to win over and mobilize the portion of the electorate that wants a woman president, while finding a way to overcome the image that many have of Betancourt being a traditional politician.

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