Meet Ingrid Betancourt, Colombia’s most prominent hostage. She was freed Wednesday along with three US military contractors and eleven others in a daring raid that dealt a huge blow to Farc, the country’s Marxist rebel movement. Read her biography and see photos and a video of her below.

Ingrid Betancourt, who is French-Colombian and a former presidential candidate, was seized by Farc rebels on February 23, 2002, while campaigning in a remote and dangerous area near a rebel-controlled zone. She was captured along with her running-mate, Clara Rojas, who was freed in January. The three US Defense Department employees — Thomas Howes, Marc Gonsalves and Keith Stansell — were seized after their aircraft crashed while on a drug eradication mission in 2003.

Juan Manuel Santos, Colombia’s Defense Minister, said that all the hostages, who were rescued from a jungle about 40 miles from the city of San José del Guaviare, were in reasonably good health.

Santos said that Columbian intelligence officers had infiltrated Farc’s command structure and ordered the hostages to be taken by helicopter to meet Alfonso Cano, the rebels’ new military commander.

“This was an unprecedented operation. It will go down in history for its audaciousness and effectiveness. The helicopters, which in fact were from the army, picked up the hostages in Guaviare and flew them to freedom.?

Betancourt spoke to reporters and described how she and the other hostages had been handcuffed and loaded on to the helicopter, expecting to be moved to a different rebel camp. Once they were in the air, she recounted what happened next.

“Something happened, I’m not quite sure what. The next thing I knew, my captors were on the floor and a soldier said ‘We are the Colombian National Army. You are free.’ The helicopter nearly fell out of the sky with all the celebrations!?

She also told reporters that she still aspired “to serve Colombia as president?.

Farc guerrillas have been holding about 40 prominent hostages in the jungle and hoping to negotiate the release of about 500 of the group’s jailed fighters. The rebels, Latin America’s oldest insurgency, have financed their operations through hostage-taking and cocaine-running.

Ingrid Betancourt Biography

Ingrid Betancourt was born in Bogotá, Columbia on December 25, 1961 so her age is 46. Her mother was a former Miss Colombia who later served in Congress representing the poor southern neighborhoods of Bogotá. Her father was minister for the General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla dictatorship (1953-1957). He also was UNESCO ambassador to the Columbian embassy in Paris. Her parents divorced in 1975 and she and her sister were largely brought up in France.

Betancourt attended private boarding schools throughout Europe and eventually graduated from the Institut d’Études Politiques de Paris.

After graduating, she married fellow student Fabrice Delloye in 1983 and had two children. Through this marriage she became a French citizen. Her husband served in the French diplomatic corps, and the couple lived in multiple countries, including New Zealand and the Seychelles.

Always interested in politics, her first political campaign distributed condoms, with the motto that she would be like a “condom against corruption.” The south of Bogotá supported her, thanks partially to the name recognition from her mother, who helped her campaign. She won by a landslide. Maybe it was the free condoms?

With anti-corruption in government a frequent theme, Betancourt was elected to the Chamber of Representatives in 1994 and launched a political party called the Green Oxygen Party. She was successfully elected to the Columbian Senate in 1998.

In the mid 1990s, Betancourt and Delloye divorced, and she married Colombian advertising executive, Juan Carlos Lecompte. Her former husband and children moved to New Zealand due to death threats stemming from her political activities.

?ngrid Betancourt launched her presidential campaign on May 20, 2001. She had been a severe critic of Farc while campaigning, and although warned by the government not to travel to the rebel-held area, visited San Vicente del Caguan where she was kidnapped along with her aide, Clara Rojas.

Oh, and her time as a hostage? 6 years, 4 months and 9 days.


Ingrid Betancourt Video
“Ingrid Betancourt-ALIVE, December 2007, held by Columbian Rebels”