Many may remember Ingrid Betancourt's risky and dramatic rescue by the Colombian army back in 2008 after her six and a half years of captivity with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Regarded as one of the most well-known political hostages of all time, Betancourt details her astonishing struggle to survive 2,321 days of captivity in the Colombian jungles in her latest tell-all memoir, Even Silence Has an End. Chilling, surreal and at times devastatingly heartbreaking, Betancourt's journey is nothing short of extraordinary. Reading more like fiction, the memoir is being haled as "a classic of Colombian history and literature"; and it's most definitely one story that will keep you up late with its nail-biting and emotional accounts of survival.
Early on in Silence, we meet then-Colombian senator Betancourt as she is on the presidential campaign trail in February 2002. Her father has fallen ill and she is apprehensive about leaving his bedside to travel to the northern town of San Vicente del Caguan, where then-President Andres Pastrana had just ordered that a FARC safe haven be dismantled after failed peace negotiations. The military refuses to give Betancourt armed military escorts yet she insists on completing the trip with her then-campaign manager and later fellow captive, Clara Rojas, and two journalists. Thirty miles into the trip, the group is abducted at gun point.
Silence skips around in time, written in what Betancourt refers to as an "emotional" order, rather than chronological. The book begins with Betancourt's third escape attempt and ultimately the painful retributions of her recapture, thrusting the reader directly into her fearful and uncertain world of captivity. Betancourt claims to have begun the memoir with this moment, because it was her hardest: "I thought if I can write about this, I can write about anything." she reveals. Betancourt's day-by-day account of even the most minor details during her six years in captivity is truly remarkable; her memories can be thought of as almost photographic and nothing is left untouched.
While constantly being shuffled throughout the jungle in captivity, Betancourt endures being chained by the neck to a tree on many occasions; living in a "cage"; extreme moments of physical and mental torture and overall, a life without the most basic of human rights. She relied heavily on daily rituals to keep her motivated and optimistic such as prayer and hearing her mother's voice each week on the radio. She finds comfort in the pair of jeans she had been wearing on the day of her abduction--a gift from her daughter that no longer fits her thin frame due to malnutrition--and a dictionary given to her by the rebel guerillas. Betancourt says:
"When you're chained by the neck to a tree, and deprived of all freedom--the freedom to move around, to talk, to eat, to drink, to carry out your most basic bodily needs--well, it took me several years to realize it, but you still have the most important freedom of all, which no one can take away from you: that is the freedom to choose what kind of person you want to be."Controversy following freedom
Silence includes details on Betancourt's relationships with three American intelligence analysts, who were held captive for five years after their single-engine plane crashed in the jungle. After all four were freed together during Operation Jaque, the American prisoners released their own tell-all book titled Out of Captivity, documenting their experiences as FARC prisoners. Keith Stansell, who Betancourt always had a rocky relationship with, makes some fairly serious allegations about the past Colombian senator while she was in captivity, calling her "haughty," "self-absorbed," "arrogant," and even in a more recent interview as "the most disgusting human being I've ever encountered." However, throughout Silence, Betancourt's feelings about Stansell are as well made clear for the first time. On first meeting Stansell, Betancourt writes:
"One of my companions, who always turned up when he was least welcome, became a real burden. In a loud voice so others could hear, Keith told me stories of his very wealthy friends and his hunting vacations with them in places to which we mere mortals would never have access. He couldn't help talking about other people's wealth. It was an obsession. He'd proposed to his fiancee because she was well connected. His favorite subject was his salary. I was embarrassed for him. I normally retreated to my worktable halfway through his spiel. I could not understand how, in the midst of a drama like ours, anyone could continue living in his bubble, judging people's worth by what they possessed. If there was ever a time to dispel this crass illusion, surely it was here, now, in the jungle. We had nothing left."Betancourt was also in the news this past July as she and her family filed a law suit for almost $7 million against the Colombian government for their negligence on the day that she was abducted. Many were shocked and viewed this as her attacking the very soldiers that risked their lives to save her and the Defense Ministry expressed "surprise and sadness" after learning of the petition. In an interview with Time magazine on the subject she admits,
"In Colombia, there is a law that protects victims of terrorism. And this law allows victims of terrorism to ask for compensation. The government distorted the facts and presented this compensation request as if I was attacking in court the soldiers who had liberated me."Due to the worldwide negative reaction, Betancourt has since decided not to sue. For more information on Betancourt's abduction and freedom after six and a half years of captivity, we recommend checking out her interview with Oprah from earlier this fall.