I was as stunned and indignant as almost everyone else in Colombia to hear about Ingrid Betancourt’s demand for millions of dollars from the state for her time as a FARC hostage, but the fact is that she does have a legal if not moral right to compensation.
It’s obvious that the amount Betancourt asks for is absurd and that the politician does not deserve a prize for sensitivity. Also, I agree with those that say that <sarcasm on> Colombia’s most praised politician </sarcasm off> has an ego the size of France, has never done a single thing for other victims, and suffers from a narcissistic personality disorder.
But that’s not what should be considered when someone demands reparation for suffering. Our personal opinion of another person is irrelevant. Besides, plenty of Betancourt’s current unpleasantness can probably be blamed on exactly what she is seeking compensation for; spending more than six years in chains in the jungle.
Also, when considering Betancourt’s case, we must not forget the millions of other victims of Colombia’s conflict.
Over the past 45 years, guerrilla and paramilitary groups and even the army itself have kidnapped, murdered and forcefully displaced vast numbers of Colombians and according to Colombian law, the Colombian state must make sure that these victims are compensated.
Betancourt, despite being the country’s most unpopular politician, is one of these victims and has undeniably suffered from the conflict.
The arguments used to discredit Betancourt’s claim may be morally correct, but are legally worthless if you examine them more closely. Moreover, they could seriously damage the right to reparation of other victims of the conflict.
- The FARC and not the state should be held responsible for Betancourt’s suffering
- This could not be more true morally, as it was the guerrillas that kidnapped her, tied her to a tree and kept her in the jungle for years. However, allowing this to be used as a legal argument would immediately dismiss reparation claims by any victim by any of the illegal armed groups, and the Colombian government has cleverly made it hard for victims of state violence to seek reparation.
- Also, with which money is the FARC going to compensate Betancourt when its only income is generated by the production and processing of drugs and extortion? Demanding the money from the FARC would only mean more suffering inflicted on others.
- It was the state that relieved her from her suffering and should deserve praise, not a lawsuit
- This again makes moral sense, but one must make the distinction between the state as a constitutional entity and the bodies that temporarily fill in positions within the state, like governments or armies. The current government is the legal representative of the state and responsible for dealing with the inheritance of former governments.
- Marc Gonsalves, one of the three U.S. military contractors rescued with Betancourt, makes the distinction that at the time of Betancourt’s kidnapping, the Pastrana administration had made culpable errors that allowed the kidnapping to happen.
- Betancourt signed a declaration that she would take full responsibility for her actions before entering FARC-controlled territory. This declaration should impede her from filing a claim
- This will legally never stand, even though again, there’s a moral point. There is plenty to criticize about Betancourt’s actions both in 2002 and after her release in 2008, but that does not relieve the state of its responsibility. Betancourt’s own stupidity or carelessness hopefully will get her the Darwin Award one day, but has little legal status.
- Another issue is that the state’s responsibility to take care of its citizens should not be weakened. Colombia’s governments unfortunately have been confronted by illegal armed group operating on their territory and committing horrible crimes, but this does not change the state’s duty to do all it can to protect its citizens.
- As we speak, Colombian politicians are being considered military targets by the FARC and they should not be given the idea that the state is trying to avoid taking its responsibility. This would only weaken Colombia’s democracy.
In short, the state should just play ball with Betancourt and let her take her claim to court. A judge will be able to settle the difference and decide what Betancourt – as an ordinary victim of Colombia’s lamentable violence – deserves.
Meanwhile, any moral disgust you may feel for Betancourt’s actions in my opinion is justified. Hopefully, she’ll come to her senses and take a more moderate stance.