In a two-page document, Colombian security and intelligence agency DAS reveals agents met with former FARC hostage Ingrid Betancourt the morning of her kidnapping, to advise her of the dangers of entering the Andean nation’s formerly demilitarized zone (DMZ).
The document states that DAS agents met with Betancourt at 11AM at Florencia airport, showed her a map of the security risk zones and advised her of the possibility of kidnapping.
“It is respectfully suggested to Betancourt that overland travel is not undertaken,” the document reads.
According to Caracol Radio, the document contains six signatures affirming that Betancourt was present and received the security warnings. It is part of a DAS file on kidnapping, which authorities plan to hand over to the Defense Ministry Monday afternoon.
Furthermore, a video of Betancourt, filmed on February 23, 2002, the day of her kidnapping by the FARC, is circulating the Internet, as further proof that the then-presidential candidate was advised of the security risks of entering the recently re-militarized zone.
The footage shows that Betancourt attempted to board then-President Andres Pastrana‘s aircraft but was prohibited from doing so.
“They allowed the foreign press in the helicopters, the president walked past us and saw us trying to get a ride with them, but well … the only solution is for us to go by the highway, given that we are in a complicated situation and knowing that there was space in the helicopters but the foreigners got in, and to a representative of the Colombian people, they closed the doors,” Betancourt says in the footage.
The interviewer asks if, given it is inadvisable for a presidential candidate to travel in a zone where there may still be a guerrilla presence, does Betancourt fear for her life?
Betancourt replies that “What we cannot accept is that due to political decisions, the possibility for a candidate to the presidency to be with her people is closed off. The people of San Vicente del Caguan [the capital of the DMZ] elected a mayor who is from my party, it is my responsibility to be with them … I feel there is a manipulation of the situation and the idea is to oblige us not to go to San Vicente.”
“And if the guerrilla arrive?” the journalist asked.
“Well, we are in God’s hands,” Betancourt replies.
Colombia’s Inspector General’s office announced earlier Monday that a public mediation meeting between the Colombian state and Betancourt, regarding the more than $6.6 million in damages she seeks from the government as reparation for her six years in FARC captivity, is set for August 5.
However Betancourt claims that she does not intend to sue the state, and 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.
The inspector general said that if Betancourt does not plan to sue the state, she needs to formally notify the government that this is case.
Betancourt 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 believes that Betancourt had no recourse to claim damages and argues that the politician was explicitly warned not to enter the demilitarized zone where she was taken hostage, on the day of the kidnapping. Military officials had previously claimed that Betancourt had signed a document accepting personal responsibility for her decision to enter, which Betancourt denies.
Colombia’s armed forces rescued Betancourt and thirteen others in the highly celebrated liberation mission “Operation Checkmate” on July 2, 2008.
Betancourt’s claim for damages resulted in a wave of outrage and disbelief around Colombia last week, leading the politician to appear on Colombian radio and television to explain that the $6.6 million she demands is “astronomic and absurd,” but said that it is “symbolic” and will serve to “support the families of kidnap victims.”
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 “Operation Checkmate,” a mission which she herself described as “perfect.”
Betancourt now divides her time between New York and Paris.