Connect to share and comment

Ingrid Betancourt’s book launch

BOGOTA, Colombia — There’s no easy way to assess Ingrid Betancourt, the former presidential candidate who was kidnapped by Marxist guerrillas in 2002.

On the one hand, Betancourt displayed sublime recklessness by ignoring government warnings and venturing into rebel territory where she was abducted. But she also showed great courage by standing up to her guerrilla guards and trying to escape.

After she was freed in 2008, her poll numbers soared and she won Spain’s equivalent of the Noble Peace Prize. But then she earned the wrath of her homeland by trying to sue the Colombian government — yes, the same folks who had engineered her rescue — for nearly $8 million in damages.

Lately, some of her fellow ex-hostages have been piling on, describing Betancourt as a backstabbing prima donna prisoner. Her behavior even inspired a French comic book, "Ingrid of the Jungle," in which the title character steals food from other hostages and rats them out to the guards.

“With Ingrid, there’s no middle ground,” wrote Colombian novelist Hector Abad. “She´s either a saint or a shrew … a fairy godmother or a witch.”

Tuesday’s worldwide release of "Even Silence Has An End," her memoir about spending six years as a rebel hostage which will be published in English, Spanish, French and other languages, could go a long way toward repairing her image.

On Wednesday, Betancourt, a mother of two, will share the sofa with Oprah Winfrey, and her appearance on the show is being touted as an interview with “the bravest mom in the world.”

Hyperbole is their job but Oprah’s PR people are not completely off base.

For all her failings, Betancourt had guts. She tried to flee from her guerrilla captors several times and nearly succeeded. In the book's first chapter, she describes stealing away in a nighttime downpour only to be caught by a guard, chained by the neck, and dragged back to the prison camp like a dog.

Unlike the stack of instant hostage memoirs that crowd the shelves of Colombian bookstores, Betancourt took her time and her attention to detail pays off. Especially vivid is her description of the prisoner’s paradox: should hostages make peace with their predicament in the interests of survival or should they fight for liberty at all times — even if escape is nearly impossible and very likely deadly?

In fact, opposite views on this dilemma doomed her friendship with fellow hostage Clara Rojas, who was Betancourt’s campaign manager. Betancourt writes that as time passed in the jungle, Rojas felt her biological clock ticking, asked FARC guards for permission to become pregnant, and later gave birth to a baby boy fathered by a guerrilla.

“We were living in different worlds,” Betancourt writes. “She was trying to adapt while I only thought about escape.”