Ingrid Betancourt, the former Colombian presidential candidate who was released last week after six years in captivity at the hands of the country’s leftist rebels, said Wednesday that it was vital that the world’s attention not turn away from hundreds of other hostages left in the Colombian jungles now that she is free.
Betancourt, 46, was snatched by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, during her 2002 presidential campaign. She was freed last week when Colombian intelligence officers duped the guerrillas into releasing her and 14 other captives, including three U.S. defense contractors.
But FARC, which was formed in the 1960s as the military wing of the Colombian Communist Party, is believed to still hold about 400 hostages.
In an interview with NBC's Ann Curry in Paris, Betancourt said she was deeply concerned for the hostages who were left behind, saying that each time a hostage had escaped or been rescued in the past, rebels’ treatment of remaining captives worsened. She said the danger was even more acute now because of the attention she was given as the rebels’ most famous captive.
“I have deeply, deeply the feeling that we have to find a way to bring them to freedom,” Betancourt, a French-Colombian, said in French-accented English.
“When I left Colombia [last week], I had the opportunity of hugging their families,” she said. “They were so distressed. They felt that perhaps because we were free, I think they had the impression that the light was off for them.”
‘We have to do more’
Since her release, Betancourt has continued her activism against FARC, launching a psychological campaign urging the rebels to stop fighting and to release their remaining hostages.
“I’ll do everything I can, because I am with them every minute — day and night with them,” said Betancourt, who said she would not cut her waist-length hair until all the hostages had been released.
“It’s a biological clock,” Betancourt said. “We have to do more. I don’t know if I can do more, but I know we — everybody — has to do more.”