Presidential Speaker Series Lecture
By Catherine Van
Class of 2012
SPOKANE, Wash. – Each day began with humiliation, followed by starvation, and ended with paranoia and the fear that death was lurking around the corner. This is how Ingrid Betancourt described her life as a political hostage for more than six years in the Colombian jungle. Ironically, Betancourt’s descent into a living nightmare began in 2002 when she ran for president of Colombia to improve social justice there.
Betancourt, who was freed by the Colombian army in a dramatic 2008 rescue, delivered Gonzaga’s Presidential Speaker Series lecture March 28 at the McCarthey Athletic Center. Betancourt still considers her release a miracle, and said the idea of freedom during her darkest days of profound physical and psychological despair seemed possible only through death.
Ultimately, Betancourt said, she was sustained by her faith in God and love for her family.
“Faith is the decision of not losing hope,” Betancourt said. “The first thing I want to confront is my reactions and understand what I have to learn from this situation.”
A former Colombian senator, Betancourt was kidnapped by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) on Feb. 23, 2002. The event shocked the world and revealed the dangerously fractured reality of Columbian politics.
As the light slowly faded from Betancourt’s sight and heart during captivity, only a makeshift rosary tied around her frail wrists provided hope. Fashioned from the rope of a captor’s belt, Betancourt said the rosary became a metaphorical “cell phone” connecting her to her family and to the Blessed Mother Mary.
“Each of us has an intimate, silent, very private relationship with God,” Betancourt said, adding she found some comfort in reading the Bible from cover-to-cover hundreds of times during captivity. In an interview before her lecture, Betancourt said she grew to understand God’s message of personal responsibility, and realized changing the law alone would never cure the world’s ills she finds most distasteful.
Personal transformation was needed, she said.
“We are the world,” she said. “If we are changing ourselves, we are changing the world.”
Click the image below to view a short video interview with Ingrid Betancourt.
A dual citizen of France and Colombia, both governments fought for Betancourt’s release. Her prayers were answered in 2008 when she and the other captives were liberated. Betancourt has gained international attention for her courage, and said her experiences clearly revealed the imperfect nature of the human condition.
“What people say about you is not what you are,” she said. “Sometimes you need to hear what people say in order to amend behaviors or to perfect things that you need to perfect.”
Now a student at Oxford University in England, Betancourt is dedicated to further her understanding of God. She plans to continue sharing her story in hopes of transforming the world – if only one person at a time.
She offered this advice on the concept of individual freedom: “Know the value of yourself and in the respect of dignity, what freedom is about,” she said. “True freedom is to decide who you want to be.”