Even Silence has an End by Ingrid Betancourt

55 in my 2011 book blogging challenge.

Even Silence Has an End is quite the interesting captivity narrative. Ingrid Bentancourt was campaigning for president of Columbia when she was captured by guerrillas. She spent the next 6 and a half years as a prisoner of the FARC, a militant rebel group. During this time, she was chained and caged and beaten and marched at gunpoint and starved and humiliated in every imaginable way. Yet at the same time, she fashioned something of a life among her captors.

This is a story of resilience and faith and hope. It’s also a story of jealousy and manipulation and resentment. It’s the story of class warfare as well as political warfare. It’s the story of friendship and betrayal. In short, it’s the story of survival in very difficult circumstances.

To be honest, I’m not sure how much of Betancourt’s story I really buy. She, of course, paints herself as being in the right and others as being in the wrong, but as I am not well versed in Columbian politics, I really don’t know what to think. She tells the story of her capture in such a way as to make it almost the direct fault of the ruling president because he maneuvered things so that she went into a dangerous area without proper guards, but she still went. It was her decision to endanger her life and the life of her assistant by venturing into territory known to be overrun with guerrillas. She went merely for a point of pride. She had said she was going so she had to carry on despite the fact that the plans for her protection had fallen apart. That seemed to me to be fairly costly pride.

She also describes her assistant, who ends up being her constant companion in captivity, as selfish, crazy, and rude. And she describes the Americans held hostage with her as falling victim to the FARC machinations to make her look bad and to sow discord among the captives.

Who can say what the truth is? I think I would have appreciated this book more, however, if Betancourt had taken the blame on herself a little more often. She does at times admit her own faults, but there’s always a reason she’s not at fault during major conflicts. That makes me question her objectivity.

That said, she still has a fascinating story. She endured a great deal. She spent more time than I can even imagine chained to a tree with nothing but a hammock and a mosquito net. She heard on the radio that her husband was seeing another woman. She saw in a newspaper that her father was dead. Through it all, as she tells it, she worked hard to focus on her faith and on her love for her children. Imagine being captured when your daughter is 16 and not seeing her again until she is 22. No matter how the story is told, this is a tale of great endurance.

Ingrid Betancourt is a controversial figure. The three Americans held captive with her have written their own book, Out of Captivity, in which one of them apparently calls her a “disgusting person.” I haven’t read this book yet, but I do plan to soon. I’m interested in hearing the story from another point of view.

My guess is it would be difficult to live in those conditions without resenting the people around you. Normal roommates in nice comfortable American apartments can hardly live together for any length of time without resenting each other, after all. These people were roommates against their will in a situation where none of them had any freedom, space, or privacy. What’s more Betancourt was a public figure and in her own country. She would have been singled out both for privileges and for punishments. She was also singled out in that most of the talk on the radio concerning the hostage situation focused on her. She had regular messages relayed via radio from her mother and her children. The Americans only very rarely heard news of their families. Add to that the fact that Betancourt came from the upper class of her country, and the Americans were middle class and from a society that doesn’t value class distinctions. It would have been nearly impossible for them to all get along.

Still, the account of where they joined forces and where they divided and where they colluded with their captors against one another is fascinating. The book is well written, and for me it has opened up a whole new world that I know very little about. I look forward to reading more about Columbia and about the perils faced by political captives there. I’d welcome suggestions if you have any. Meanwhile, I think anyone who likes non-fiction narratives of suspenseful situations would enjoy this book.

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