Colombia has seen an outpouring of hatred following former FARC hostage Ingrid Betancourt’s attempt to claim damages from the Colombian government for the six years she spent in guerrilla captivity. This collective expression of hatred is more chilling than Ingrid’s claim itself, because the hatred shows little sense and almost no reflection. Ingrid has the right to request this conciliation, however preposterous it may seem, and even if she is painted as a usurer and even if the amount she requested is colossal. Colombians have followed one another’s opinions like sheep and have forgotten their principles. The right of any victim to reparation should be an inalienable right that all Colombians defend. If a victim doesn’t receive the right to at least request compensation, then justice has not been served.
If the claim is exaggerated, then it is for that reason that the judiciary exists, so that through negotiations the requested amount of $6.5 million could be reduced. And if the conciliation and later a lawsuit were ruled to be unfounded because Ingrid acted against security warnings, then that is why the investigation would be undertaken and evidence provided to confirm it, so the case could be closed. The worst mistake Ingrid Betancourt made was to withdraw her petition. What can be learnt from this is that Colombia needs more minds that meditate on issues calmly and with good sense, and that don’t just follow the fury of the masses. The image that remains is one of an incredible ignorance and distrust of the judiciary, which is not a good sign for a nation trying to rid itself of corruption, violence and illegality.
The immense avalanche of hatred swept away the opportunity to explore important legal issues, which could have been of great benefit to legal precedent as well the general public. Ingrid was not responsible for the security in the zone, so the knowledge and responsibility of what could happen to her was in the hands of those in control, who made decisions that civilians had to obey.
Aside from Ingrid’s actions, it needs to be considered that a military check point is called just that because travelers must stop there to provide details on their identity, reasons for travel and items they are carrying, before they are allowed to go on their way. To sign a document at the checkpoint is judicially questionable, because the armed forces can not ask citizens to give up their right to state protection, even if they have been found guilty of a crime, because to do so would be to violate the constitution.
At the time when Ingrid decided to take her campaign for the presidency to the municipality, where a member of her party was mayor, President Pastrana had announced the end of the demilitarization of the zone several days earlier. San Vicente del Caguan was in the hands of the Colombian army, the FARC were retreating, and the army was gaining control of the area. From a political and military point of view, it was in the interest of the Colombian state to militarily escort Ingrid, in order to assert its authority in the zone and to highlight the restoration of democracy in a municipality that had been abused by the guerrilla. If the highway beyond the military checkpoint was dangerous or controlled by the FARC, it should have been closed or militarized, because it would be absurd and irresponsible to detain travelers and then allow them to go on ahead, where they could fall into FARC hands or lose their lives.
Ingrid’s haste to get to San Vicente del Caguan was no different to the haste of the inhabitants of the area, whose objective was to arrive at their destination as soon as possible.
These are example of how much Colombians lost out on by rejecting a legal case, over which only the judiciary – and not the hatred of the majority, nor the weakness of the applicant – had authority. Perhaps these facts should be considered more fairly in the future.
Jose Maria Rodriguez Gonzalez is an El Tiempo op-ed contributor and co-author of “El Golpe de Estado en Honduras desde una Perspectiva de los DD HH”. He specializes in United States foreign policy and armed conflict studies.