“There is no claim, there is not going to be a claim, and I have not had any intention of suing,” Betancourt said.
A wave of anger and indignation from the Colombian government, army and general public followed Betancourt’s announcement Friday, leading her to clarify that her petition for damages aims to “open the way so that other people who have been kidnapped can get compensation”.
Betancourt has petitioned a “request for conciliation,” which means she has taken the initial move to discuss compensation. By law, suing would be the next step if no agreement on damages were reached with the Colombian government.
Betancourt was kidnapped by the FARC on February 23, 2002, when she traveled to the newly-remilitarized El Caguan area to campaign for the presidency. Colombia’s armed forces rescued her and thirteen others in the highly celebrated liberation mission “Operation Checkmate” on July 2, 2008.
The former hostage claims that the Colombian state failed to provide her adequate protection to travel in the zone, stripping her of her bodyguards and refusing to allow her to fly by state helicopter into the heavily guerrilla infiltrated area, where she was kidnapped.
The Colombian government argues that Betancourt ignored warnings not to enter the demilitarized zone and that she signed a document accepting personal responsibility for her decision to enter, which Betancourt denies.
“The only document me and Clara Rojas signed was insurance for the vehicle that was state property,” she said.
“I was not and am not irresponsible. The decision I took was based on the information I had received. I never wanted them to kidnap me, but they took away my bodyguards, they left me unprotected,” Betancourt said.
The Colombian army’s position
Former army commander, General Arcesio Barrero, told Caracol Radio Monday that Betancourt is lying. Barrero claims he advised Betancourt that there was heavy fighting underway within the demilitarized zone and that there were no guarantees that she would arrive at her intended destination of San Vicente de Caguan safely.
“It is a lie that I gave her security guarantees. She was advised of the risk… She did not comply with the recommendations and said she would go overland,” Barrero said.
The retired official added that Betanourt had asked to be taken by helicopter, to which he responded that it was out of his jurisdiction to allow her to do so.
Barrero said he had proof of how events unfolded the day of Betancourt’s kidnapping and he has a clear conscience about the situation.
Former Peace Commissioner Camilo Gonzalez said Friday that he had personally advised Betancourt not to travel to the demilitarized zone.
Betancourt’s ex-husband’s position
Betancourt’s ex-husband Juan Carlos Lecompte told W Radio that his ex-wife “must” regret her decision to seek damages.
“She is sorry, I imagine that she did not expect Colombians to react as they have. I imagine that she thought that she would be met with varied opinions, but not this avalanche of such strong opinions against her. I think she regrets it, I imagine she must,” Lecompte said.
Lecompte said that a psychologist had told him that in many cases of kidnap victims, after living for years in the jungle with nothing, when they are freed or rescued “they want and they want to have things.”
Betancourt’s ex-husband added that he found it “very strange” that she had insisted on serving him divorce papers the day that his father died.
“She wanted to send a lawyer to the clinic where my father died. I received the papers the same time as my father died, that’s when my love for her died.”
Lecompte campaigned avidly for his wife’s release during her time as a FARC hostage, even chartering a helicopter to fly over the jungle and scatter pamphlets declaring his love and support for her, in the hope she would find one.
Upon her rescue, Betancourt left almost immediately for France and Lecompte claims they only spoke briefly before her departure. Three American contractors, fellow FARC captives, wrote a book about their ordeal in the jungle, in which they paint a less than favorable picture of Betancourt and insinuate she had at least one ex-marital affair during their shared time in the jungle. They also claim she was arrogant, she stole food, and put their lives in danger by telling the rebel guards that the authors were CIA agents
Betancourt, a dual French-Colombian citizen, did not mention her petition when she was in Colombia on July 2 to celebrate the two year anniversary of the Colombian army’s dramatic rescue of her and fourteen other FARC hostages in “Operation Checkmate,” a mission which she herself described as “perfect.”
Betancourt now divides her time between New York and Paris.