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Grace under pressure

Ingrid Betancourt is the very definition of a woman of substance

While my site was being updated and was therefore briefly offline, one of the things that happened in the world was the release of Ingrid Betancourt, along with other captives, from the hands of FARC guerrillas.

Ingrid Betancourt It's not often that there's good news but Betancourt's release certainly qualifies. Not a shot fired, nobody killed (though quite possibly a bunch of people paid off), a dozen families reunited with their loved ones - it doesn't get much better than this. Seeing Betancourt's pure, unadulterated joy at being reunited with her children again would bring a tear to the eye of the most cynical person on earth. She looked like she could eat them up like a box of chocolates.

I must admit that until today's article in the Guardian, I also hadn't realised how badly the captives are treated by FARC. Why such egregious cruelty, I wonder? Tying people to trees, chaining them with heavy weights, death threats, and - unspoken but strongly suspected - the rape of female captives. Betancourt has been noticably silent on the latter issue, but it makes one suspect the worst. It is all so bloody unnecessary - you'd think the impenetrability of the jungle would be enough to subdue the prisoners, and it is also ridiculously bad tactics for a guerrilla army, who rely on the compliance of the native populace - something the VietCong learned very well. But hopefully FARC is now firmly on its way out - apparently 1,600 of its members have defected since January.

Betancourt, who at only 46 has achieved a great deal, is a substantial person, and her measured, articulate account of her past years is quite astonishing, especially given the trauma she has been through. She obviously has ballast. So much has happened to her in the past week that it also seems strange that she has only been free for a few days. As she points out in the Guardian, only six days ago she was still chained to a tree. It strikes me that this is the second time she has been kidnapped away, without expectation and without warning. 

She is also articulate about how hard it is to come to terms with freedom, and that this is mainly with regard to very simple things - being able to see the sky, the noise of traffic, the smell of perfume surrounding her in French hotel rooms. Things that all of us take for granted in the west - the idea that we can walk down the street, and do so and not be harmed, put on what clothes we like, bathe in hot water.

Because of her political importance, Betancourt remains under armed guard - the French very much regard her as one of their own and are determined that nothing bad will happen to her on their soil, and for all the media coverage there has been worldwide about her release, it is as nothing compared with the wall-to-wall exposure she has had in France. Here, she is regarded as a national heroine, and she will shortly receive the Legion d'Honneur.

I read that Betancourt - a deeply religious woman whose faith was a comfort to her in captivity - is now heading for Lourdes for a private retreat with her family, and let us hope that the media frenzy will die down a bit. Because for all that no-one wishes her anything but the best, as with the Fritzl family what people need most in these circumstances is peace and quiet, and time to simply be.

I don't doubt that given time, however, she will recover. After all, she is a serious overachiever - a graduate of the Institut d'Études Politiques de Paris (you don't get into that by being a thicko), a committed politician, a presidential candidate at the age of 40, good grief.

On a bathetic note, it can rather throw one's own life into stark relief - it makes me realise that at 45 I still don't know what I think about anything, much less would have the ability to campaign about it. And I'm astounded by the age of her children - I never did get round to wanting any, and her eldest is 23. Oh la.

Well, as they say, some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. And, Shakespeare might have added, some of us just watch greatness from a distance, but at least we know it when we see it. 

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