Returning to politics took Íngrid Betancourt 20 years. At that time, she experienced arduous processes of personal transformation after being kidnapped for six years and four months by the now-defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Before making the decision to seek the Presidency, she consulted her family, as she knew that she would once again face public order risks that persist in the country.

In 2002, Betancourt, 60, aspired to the same position and during the campaign was kidnapped while visiting San Vicente del Caguán, in the southwest, where the FARC had a large control of the territory.

“I have a commitment to watch over my safety and that of my colleagues. We are not going to take risks,” Betancourt said Wednesday in an interview with The Associated Press.

“I think that is part of the reflection that came out of the kidnapping. They accused me of having been irresponsible, of having wanted them to kidnap me. That was very unfair, but I think there also has to be a reflection on the possibility of protecting oneself,” she added forcefully.

The candidate to succeed the current president, Iván Duque, believes that Colombia is ready for in-depth transformations, such as decriminalizing drugs.

She considers drug trafficking as the nucleus from which the violence that the country still suffers derives, despite the fact that the Colombian government signed a peace agreement with the FARC in 2016 after five decades of confrontations.

“We know how to end drug trafficking, but we can’t do it alone. We have to achieve a great regional agreement, we are going to propose to the United States that we make an alliance for progress whose axis is decriminalization or deregulation, therefore, so that we can put an end to the capital gains generated by the business of drug,” Betancourt said.

By ending the income generated by drug trafficking and that feeds the armed groups in Colombia, the resources that would not be invested in the “war on drugs that has been a failure” can be used “to stabilize their populations with policies farms that give them the chance to live in peace and security”, says the candidate.

Regarding new peace processes with active armed groups such as the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) -with whom the current government has suspended negotiations since 2019-, Betancourt is open to the option, but with limits.

“I come from a tradition of reconciliation and peace, but I also feel that a large dose of authority is necessary, because there is an abuse of thinking that in Colombia there will always be second chances, that what the FARC achieved can be overcome with more time and have agreements with greater advantages that’s not going to happen, we’re going to give them a time, some dates, with some negotiation frameworks. We are not going to offer more than what was given to the FARC,” she warned.

The FARC were given the opportunity to go to a peace court that, in exchange for telling the full truth about crimes against humanity, can exonerate them from jail, but if they do not comply and are defeated in court, they could pay up to 20 years in prison.

They also participate in politics, have a presence in Congress and will be able to aspire to public office in the next elections with their Comunes party.

As a victim, Betancourt has confronted her former executioners and has demanded reparation, true “compassion” for what they did to her, such as tying her to a tree with chains so that she would not escape.

“We have felt that the FARC have not made the complete transition from a life as a guerrilla to a life as a citizen. I think that for this they suddenly need more time for them to understand the seriousness of what happened and not try to justify in no way the crimes that were committed,” said Betancourt.

Even with her reparations to the former FARC, Betancourt defends the signed peace process and assures that if she reaches the Presidency she will fully implement it, a request that human rights defenders from the territories most affected by the violence have insistently made.

The Colombia that Betancourt left in 2008 when she was freed in a military operation along with 14 other hostages, including some Americans, is not the same as in 2022 and that is why she decided to try again, said the now-candidate.

“The peace process changed the country’s equation. We cannot look at each other in the same way. The war was a smoke screen that prevented us from talking about the fundamental issues of our society: poverty, inequality, family violence and insecurity. Everything was overshadowed by bombs, kidnappings and murders,” said Betancourt, who spent many years with her family in France, where she has nationality.

The other fundamental change, says the candidate, was the pandemic that “brought the suffering of those who have and those who do not have closer together. It humanized us again.”

Betancourt initially militated in the Liberal Party, then founded the progressive and environmentalist Green Oxygen, which she now seeks to promote.

However, for the presidential elections she joined with a group of politicians who formed the Centro Esperanza Coalition. In March, the coalition will submit to a citizen vote the decision of which of them should aspire to the Presidency on May 29.

“What fundamentally unites us is that conviction that corruption must be ended,” explained Betancourt, who believes that polarization is not the way forward, referring to two politicians of great weight in the country: Gustavo Petro, from the left and who leads the polls so far, and Álvaro Uribe, twice president and current political godfather of President Iván Duque.

“Neither the U nor the P, we do not believe in the extreme left or the extreme right,” she adds, referring to the fact that she does not aspire to have an alliance with them, but rather that her coalition defeats them in the first presidential round.

Regarding Venezuela, she does believe that negotiations would be open to try to resume diplomatic relations that were broken in February 2019 by decision of Nicolás Maduro. “Venezuela is not a neutral country for us, this is a negotiation because we obviously respect the possibility that each country defines how it wants to be governed, but we will not accept that they continue to use Colombia as a springboard to do illicit business or to sell weapons,” she said.

Faced with another thorny issue in Colombia, such as abortion, Betancourt has a personal vision that does not conflict with a collective one: “As a Catholic, I do not share the option of abortion for my body, but my faith and my values ​​cannot be imposed on to another woman, the State has to be for everyone and not just for those who think like me.”

If the Constitutional Court were to fully decriminalize abortion in the current discussion, Betancourt believes that the challenge will be for Congress to regulate and promote that women have psychological support and a place to “reflect” on their options in complete anonymity: “a woman can abort, she can give it up for adoption or have it”.

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