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In the News
Last Updated: 07/23/2008
Betancourt for president again?
Elsa Cubero

Key Words: Colombia, hostage, Ingrid Betancourt, Latin American politics, presidential campaign, Uribe

Ingrid Betancourt has been all over the news recently, since Colombian president Alvaro Uribe managed to rescue her – along with eleven members of the Colombian security forces and three American military contractors – from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Former candidate for president of Colombia, Betancourt, had been held hostage since February 2002. She was captured on a mission with her debate head, Clara Rojas, who was released last January.

Betancourt was rescued on July 2, 2008 in a daring raid by a group of Colombian commandos, who disguised themselves as rebels and tricked the guerrillas holding the captives into turning them over.

The main question these days is: Will Ingrid Betancourt run for president of Colombia again?

The Miami Herald has printed that Betancourt is the only potential candidate who could likely defeat the current president if he were to seek re-election.

Opinion polls taken after her rescue show that she has an approval rating ranging from 71 percent to 83 percent; "If she can capitalize on the favorability and turn sympathy for her suffering into political support for her proposals, she could consolidate her political project by the 2010 elections," says Mr Pérez.

While the Miami Herald maintains that it is still too early to tell if Betancourt will be a rival or an ally for the FARC; but they announced that, on the day of her rescue, she praised Uribe's leadership and denounced the FARC's cruel treatment of her – which, among other things, included keeping her in chains 24 hours a day for three full years.

On the other side of the world, Kuwait Times has brought up the question of Uribe’s reelection: Will he try to change the constitution again – which enabled his second term – so he can run again in 2010?

Those who oppose the idea say it would put him in league with his continental rival, Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who has been widely branded autocratic for doing his utmost to become president for life.

The Miami Herald went on to report that some analysts think the president, whose rancher father was killed by the FARC rebels in a botched 1983 kidnapping, is not actually interested in re-election so much as preserving his popular influence among Colombians, called "Uribismo".

On the matter, political analyst Pedro Medellín for the Christian Science Monitor has written that, "Ingrid Betancourt's reappearance on the scene changes the political chessboard even if she hasn't made clear her intentions."

For one thing, the breathtaking rescue has (at least temporarily) eclipsed troubling questions about the legitimacy of the 2006 elections. The day after the rescue, the Constitutional Court turned down a Supreme Court request to review the 2005 legislative process that paved the way for Uribe's second term.

Colombia's leading weekly news magazine Semana published poll results indicating that the former hostage leads other possible candidates for the presidency, not including the wildly popular incumbent who, under the current rules, cannot run.

Betancourt said it was too soon to say if she would return to Colombian politics, saying that Uribe had done "very good things for Colombia," but was quick to add: "We are not on the same [political] side."

In a separate interview with France 24 television, Betancourt hinted she might try to find a different role for herself in Colombia.

"Being president is great. But not that great, after all, you can do other things," she said.

Elsa Cubero is a journalism student from La Universidad Internacional de las Americas in Costa Rica.