Stephen Sackur talks to Ingrid Betancourt, who was rescued from the Colombian jungle in 2008, after being held hostage for more than six years by left-wing guerrillas.
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Now on BBC News, HARDtalk.
Today I'm in Paris for a special edition of HARDtalk.
My guest came to the city a week ago from the jungles of Colombia.
She came as a free woman after more than six years as perhaps the most
famous captive in the world.
Hers is an extraordinary story, from hellish imprisonment
to miraculous rescue.
And now Ingrid Betancourt is ready to tell it.
Ingrid Betancourt, welcome to HARDtalk.
Thank you so much, I'm so glad to be here with you today.
Thank you so much, I'm so glad to be here with you today.
We're very glad to have you on the programme.
You've had a week and a little bit more of freedom.
How do you feel now? Well, it's a shock.
First, because after years of being everyday submerged
First, because after years of being everyday submerged
into sadness, I'm the opposite now.
It's the euphoria of being with my family,
and feeling so much happiness, it's just great.
Has the euphoria to any extent worn off yet?
I hope it won't go ever again.
I mean, I would like to always remember how great it is to be alive
and how great it is to be free.
I don't want to forget it.
I think we shouldn't forget.
It's a privilege.
Has it been somewhat disorientating to be,
for more than six years, a captive with no choices,
no ability to make any decision for yourself,
suddenly to be pushed into this world where there are thousands
of choices to be made every day?
That's true, that's one of the impacts of this new life.
There are others, like for example knowing that I don't have a life,
I have to build a life.
I am intruding in the life of my children, they have their life,
they have to continue their life, now with the present.
And so I know that I need to find my way, which is not,
I mean, it's not easy, but it's beautiful.
But I think I need to just, I think I am achieving the first
part of this new life, getting in touch with everybody
and thanking everybody, but I know that now I have to just
retreat and be alone with my family and construct my matrix with the one
I love, and then it will take time.
I know I need time.
I want to talk more about your family and the future but now
I want to...
Tell me exactly what you remember of the release, the rescue,
because there have been a lot of details released about it.
People across the world are fascinated.
It seems miraculous but how did it look from your point of view?
Well, what you said, the exact word is miraculous.
When I think about my life, I say it's incredible what happened.
I will tell you.
We woke up at four in the morning with our normal things to do.
I always pray, and I would wait for my mother's message
on the radio.
It was very important for me.
And then they released us.
We were chained and they said "You have to pack, you have
to get ready."
We knew because we had talks with the commanders,
that there was an international commission that was planned to get
in touch with us, but we didn't know really what was going to happen.
During that morning, one of the commanders came to speak
to me and I asked him what we could be waiting for,
and he said, "There is a helicopter that will come and it will take
you somewhere where you are going to talk with the higher commanders",
and then afterwards he said, "I don't know, perhaps some
of you will be free, perhaps some of you are going to be
transferred somewhere else or perhaps you are going
to come back here.
We don't know," he said.
So when I spoke and shared this information with my inmates,
what I thought was perhaps one of us could be released.
Of course I know that in our hearts we all prayed that it was our turn,
so we were like excited but frightened, you now?
And at the same time, for example in my case I didn't
want to be released without the others.
I knew it wouldn't be, I felt it wasn't good.
I didn't want that to happen.
And then we saw the helicopters.
Then they moved us when the helicopters approached the site.
We had to cross the river, we were very close to the site
where the landing was done.
And there was a group of five people that came out of the helicopter,
four men and a woman, and these guys were dressed in white.
And they had all kind of badges and things,
and I thought, my God.
And my friends were asking me, "Do you know these guys,
are these guys French?
Are they Swiss?"
And I said, I don't know, I don't know them,
I don't recognise anybody.
And we were surrounded while the guards that were telling
us to shut up and not to talk.
The FARC guys?
The FARC guys.
And they were very excited, and they were aggressive.
And these guys came and they wanted to talk only to the commanders
so they went away with the commanders and we could see
that they were hugging and they were giving them things
and then we saw they gave them like some drinks to give
to all the group, and we thought, what is this?
It's the FARC, it's those guys, they are the same.
It's not an international commission, this is fake.
And there was in the group a cameraman, and he was taping.
So I felt very uncomfortable and tried to keep in the rear
because I did not want them to take me.
So you are now feeling deep disappointment.
You thought perhaps this was an international mission,
perhaps even some of you might be free and suddenly you think,
this is just another FARC move.
Yes, and they are using us, they want to show the world
that we are OK, that we are alive, and probably they will use
the images to say, "Don't worry, we are the good guys,
we're taking care of them."
So to prepare everybody, like for four or five years
more of abduction.
So they handcuffed you?
Well, that was the thing.
They said if you want to get into the helicopter,
you have to be handcuffed.
It was so humiliating.
And one of my companions said, "I don't want to get
into the helicopter, I refuse.
I'm not going with you, I'm not going to accept
to be handcuffed."
I knew from the experience I had with the FARC that we couldn't,
I mean if the FARC had decided to take us in the helicopter,
when you have a gun pointed at you you will not ask
if you like or if you do not like, you have to do what they tell
you to do.
I am trying to imagine you in your handcuffs,
taken into the helicopter, it takes off and at this point
you have not an inkling that rescue is at hand.
We see the commanders that have been with us during all this time,
our enemies that have been so cruel with us,
that have been in the helicopter with us, and then in a second,
the guy is on the floor.
I see everybody punching him and I said, what happened?
And then it is like in the same second the leader of the operation
screams, "We are the Colombian army, you are free."
It's something incredible.
I cannot find words to tell you.
Because I knew it had to be real.
And at the same time, the explosion of feelings
was so intense that I was like, I thought perhaps
I wasn't feeling anything.
I screamed, I was yelling, and then I thought,
this is ridiculous, I cannot screen.
And then all the others came and helped me and everybody
was kissing me, and I was in tears, but at the same time,
is it true?
It was like...
The greatest? The greatest moment.
The greatest moment of your life?
No, because the birth of my children was better.
But that was the greatest moment of all this ordeal.
At that moment also you can see the guys who had been responsible
for your captivity themselves bound.
I think one of them was naked.
Did you feel intense anger at that point.
Did you want to go and kick them? No, no.
I was telling my companions not to do that because I had
a moment, some seconds.
I prayed to God.
You know, I think that it's very important to be free,
totally free, and I think that anger or seeking revenge or bitterness,
it is like chains.
The same chains that they had us wearing all those years.
It is like those kind of chains.
But at the same time you cannot forget what they did to you.
You must forgive and you must not forget.
But it is for another reason.
I think that psychologically speaking you have to forget.
You have to.
That is what I'm doing great now, I'm trying to just have a break.
I need those memories to come up to the surface very slowly.
Because I know that I am fragile still.
And there are things that I just can't cope with.
You mean memories of physical abuse?
Memories, memories of things.
But at the same time, I know that those things that
I lived, not only me but all of us, we have to do the necessary crossing
inside of ourselves to give testimony so that what we lived does
not happen again to anybody else.
Because the world wants to know what the FARC did to you.
Did they torture you?
I am not going to talk about those things.
It is just a decision I have made.
I am not ready.
I don't know if sometime in the future I will talk
about those things, but what I know is that the world,
it is sufficient for the world to know that war is something that
breaks lives and breaks your soul and that those that do not know
what being victims of a war is cannot understand the privilege
to live in peace.
I want to show to you words that you yourself wrote to your daughter,
We had Melanie on our programme, we talked to her a couple
of months ago.
It was an extraordinarily courageous interview she gave us.
And she shared with us the words that you wrote to her,
when you talked of being weary of suffering.
You said, "Sometimes death seems to me the sweet option."
You must have been at a terrible place when you wrote that.
Now it's the time to think about the others that
are still living that ordeal and to know that we can make
the difference for them in their lives, if we are vocal,
if we move, if we just...
We have to fight for them.
We have to fight for them.
You left a lot of people behind.
How do you cope with that knowledge?
There are believed to be perhaps 700 prisoners still held by the FARC.
If the numbers are accurate, we have 3000 hostages in Colombia,
700 held by the FARC, and there are 25 persons that
were political prisoners like me.
The others are held - the FARC has this horrible business
of kidnapping people for money.
So the 700 we're talking about, they want money for various reasons.
But the difference is that the political hostages,
our families cannot do anything about our situation.
We have to go through others to take care of our problem
because it is political.
So I think it's - that is why, well, we have to move.
Do you fear for their current situation, given that you and 14
others, the most high-profile prisoners have been seized
from the grip of the FARC?
I'll tell you, there's not a minute of my life,
day and night, in any of my dreams since I have been released,
that I don't have this communion with their fate,
knowing that they can be killed at any moment.
They are at risk.
And this has to end now.
Because every second that is added to their suffering is a second
where the risk of death is present.
How does it end?
Do you believe that President Uribe of Colombia should continue
with the tough military strategy and in the end,
should he seek to destroy the FARC?
I think that the FARC have to understand that it's over.
Their time is over.
The world wants to see a Colombia in peace.
There is no place for them any more in Colombia.
I'm not going to tell the president of Colombia what to do,
the only thing that I know is that the hearts of all Colombians
are seeking a new life.
We want to be able to recover our country in peace,
and that's something that Uribe has to reflect on and the FARC have
to reflect on, too.
But it would be fair to say when you were taken you actually
were in FARC territory because as a presidential candidate
you believed it was worthwhile trying to open up a dialogue.
Do you still believe there is something to talk about,
to negotiate about, or now it has to be a question of FARC surrender?
We are human beings and human beings are beings of words.
The word is what makes us different.
The words are our strongest weapon.
We need to talk to make peace.
The only way we're going to solve the problems in Colombia
is if we establish a space where we can talk without fearing
to be killed.
So this is something that we have to work on.
It's not easy.
We know it in our everyday life, in the family when there
is a problem, finding the right words, saying them in the right
moment with the right tone, it is difficult.
Well, that happens also for a nation.
You described how you would listen to your mother on the radio.
You have also described how messages from your family were the oxygen,
the thing that kept your head above water, you said.
How did you, throughout those years, know what was happening
to your family, to your country?
How did you know?
Well, I had the radio.
The radio was our TV, DVD, all those gadgets that you have now,
and that I don't know how to use.
They let you listen to the BBC?
It was so important.
I listened to the BBC every day, twice a day.
I can tell you the names of all the guys that broadcast
in the BBC.
The guys that work in the BBC for the radio, they have this
incredible ability to be so expressive in describing things
where they are that you just listen to them and you see.
You can see what they are talking about.
You can hear their surroundings, and you know if there is wind,
if it is hot, you see it.
But Ingrid Betancourt, in the end, despite the expressive journalism
you were able to listen to, you could not know
what was happening to your family and I want to know, before
we finish, what it has been like getting to know your daughter,
Melanie, your son, Lorenzo, again, having missed six years
of their growing up.
I believe, 19, your son - 21 your daughter.
What has it been like getting to know them again?
It has been a magic blessing.
That sounds like, I mean, the opposite, but it's
nothing like that.
It's magic because it's something that happens like this,
and it's a blessing because I just feel it comes from God.
I mean it's like for example I tell you, I was feeling so much that
when I would see my mother again, I would see an old woman.
And I knew it would break my heart.
Because when I left, she was beautiful and so active.
And when I saw her, it was like no day, the time didn't touch her.
But my children, it was exactly the opposite.
I knew that those children that I left had become adults
and I was trying to imagine how they would be physically
and in their character and spiritually.
And I would always be so...
I would imagine things, the best.
What would be the best that I could expect?
And the reality was better than all the best that
I could imagine.
You sit here and you have been through unimaginable things,
and yet you look so serene and so strong.
But that's the exterior, that's what I see.
I just wonder, when you think about yourself, Ingrid Betancourt,
how have you changed over the last six and a half years?
How are you different now from the woman that you were,
running for President in 2002?
I'm a woman, I'm a fragile woman.
The difference is that now I know, so I take care.
You know what?
That I'm fragile.
Ingrid Betancourt, thank you very much for being on HARDtalk with me.
I know many gardeners in England wanted some rain,
but I suspect some of those gardens are now water-logged
after what happened during Wednesday.
Kidnapped in 2002 whilst campaigning to become Colombia's president, Ingrid Betancourt was held hostage for more than six years in the Colombian jungle by left-wing guerrillas. She was rescued in an audacious effort by Colombian intelligence. Stephen Sackur met her shortly after her release, when she told him her focus was to secure the release of the remaining hostages held in the jungle, and that she wouldn't rule out running for president again.