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The Betancourt backlash

From her love life to lawsuits, former hostage and one-time presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt has been all over the news — and most of it’s been bad.

But first, the good news.

Betancourt and U.S. military contractor Marc Gonsalves spent several years together in the jungle as guerrilla-held hostages. When they were rescued by Colombian commandoes two years ago, they came home to find that their marriages had fallen apart.

Now, they’ve found each other.

Gonsalves and Betancourt, a dual French-Colombian citizen and certified member of the European jet set, are dating, according to Keith Stansell, who was kidnapped by FARC rebels alongside Gonsalves and a third contractor when their drug surveillance aircraft crashed in southern Colombia in 2003.

“They are a couple,” Stansell told Colombia’s RCN radio.

Not that Stansell is overjoyed. He developed a fierce hatred of Betancourt during their time as hostages because, in his view, she was pompous and treated other prisoners like scum.

When the three Americans were transferred to a prison camp holding Betancourt and dozens of other hostages, for example, Stansell said she complained that their quarters were overcrowded and wanted nothing to do with the gringos.

“Can you believe that,” Stansell commented at the time. “The frickin’ princess thinks the FARC built this castle for her alone. How arrogant is that?”

Chained up in the jungle, Betancourt still believed she would one day be president of Colombia and drew up a 190-point governing plan just in case. “She even offered me a job,” Stansell said. “She said that when she was president, I could be one of her defense advisers. I said: ‘Do you think I’m stupid?... Do you think I’m that impressed by you?’”

Stansell doesn’t have to worry about Betancourt moving into the presidential palace in Bogota anytime soon. Her image took a massive hit when it was revealed last week that she was filing a lawsuit against the Colombian government for nearly $8 million for damages and lost income caused by her kidnapping.

Colombians were shocked because Betancourt was abducted after blithely ignoring strong government warnings not to travel into guerrilla territory as she campaigned for the presidency in 2002. What’s more, the Colombian government saved her life by pulling off an amazing rescue operation.

Betancourt graces the cover of the current edition of the Colombian newsmagazine Semana under the headline: “Disgraceful.”

Amid an avalanche of negative news coverage — including political cartoons suggesting she be returned to FARC captivity — Betancourt sheepishly withdrew her lawsuit.

But she won’t be hard up for cash. Betancourt reportedly earned several million dollars for her memoir of life as a hostage, titled "Even Silence Has An End," which will hit bookshelves in September.