Colombia's most famous hostage, former presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, turned 46 on Tuesday, with her family worrying for her health as she marked her sixth birthday as a hostage in a rebel jungle camp.
For thousands of Colombians who have relatives kidnapped, Tuesday was a day of reflection as they passed another Christmas without their loved ones.
But some had cause for hope as they await word of three hostages the rebels have promised to release to Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez. Last week, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, said it would hand over Clara Rojas, Betancourt's vice presidential running mate; Rojas' young son, Emmanuel; and a former congresswoman, Consuelo Gonzalez.
After days of speculation and rumors, Chavez scheduled a news conference yesterday, in which officials said he would give details on the status of the handover of the three. The Rojas family said it hoped Chavez would announce he already has the hostages in his care.
But for the Betancourt family, Tuesday was a poignant day as they worried for the health of the French-Colombian politician, who was snatched along with Rojas in 2002 as they campaigned for the presidency in rural southern Colombia.
A video that surfaced last month showed the once-vivacious Betancourt looking gaunt, her stare fixed on the ground, her unkempt hair hanging down to her waist.
"This is an emergency ... her health is precarious," Betancourt's husband, Juan Carlos Lecompte, said in an interview with the Associated Press. "We can't wait months or years, this is a question of days and weeks ... we are worried she could die in captivity."
In addition to 700 people held for ransom, the rebels are offering to exchange 47 prominent hostages, including Betancourt and three US defense contractors, for the release of hundreds of rebels imprisoned in Colombia and the US.
In spite of the guerrillas' promised unilateral freeing of the three hostages, a final deal seems a distant prospect. Since Colombian President Alvaro Uribe took office in August 2002, the government has not held a single face-to-face meeting with the rebels.
Lecompte said Betancourt's family fondly remembered her last birthday they all shared. That was Christmas Day 2001, as Betancourt turned 40, surrounded by her mother, two children and husband.
"It was an intimate party, just a few family members the way Ingrid liked it," Lecompte said. "The children were joking with her, telling her she had reached her 40s, that she was now at the fourth floor of life."
"This 25th will be very sad for me ... I don't know if I will ever have her back, and I just hope that in the next year we will have her with us," said Lecompte, who has tirelessly worked for his wife's freedom.
Lecompte spent much of the last week throwing about 22,000 leaflets from a small plane over the jungles of southeastern Colombia, one of the zones Betancourt is thought to be. The leaflets were adorned with pictures of Betancourt's two children. Lecompte hopes that the guerrillas will pass the flyer on to her, thus fortifying her spirits on her birthday.
A coronavirus-free tropical island nestled in the northern Pacific might seem the perfect place to ride out a pandemic, but residents on Palau said that life right now is far from idyllic. The microstate of 18,000 people is among a dwindling number of places on Earth that still report zero cases of COVID-19 as figures mount daily elsewhere. The disparate group also includes Samoa, Turkmenistan, North Korea and bases on the frozen continent of Antarctica. A dot in the ocean hundreds of kilometers from its nearest neighbors, Palau is surrounded by the vast Pacific Ocean, which has acted as a buffer against the
Dutch scientists have found the coronavirus in a city’s wastewater before COVID-19 cases were reported, demonstrating a novel early warning system for the disease. SARS-CoV-2 — the virus that causes COVID-19 — is often excreted in an infected person’s stool. Although it is unlikely that sewage will become an important route of transmission, the pathogen’s increasing circulation in communities would increase the amount of it flowing into sewer systems, Gertjan Medema and colleagues at the KWR Water Research Institute in Nieuwegein said on Monday. They detected genetic material from the coronavirus at a wastewater treatment plant in Amersfoort on March 5, before
TRUE TOLL? Some Chinese are skeptical about official data, particularly given the overwhelmed medical system and initial attempts to cover up the outbreak The long lines and stacks of urns greeting family members of the dead at funeral homes in Wuhan, China, are spurring questions about the true scale of casualties at the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, renewing pressure on a Chinese government struggling to control its containment narrative. The families of those who succumbed to the coronavirus in the city, where the disease first emerged, were allowed to pick up their cremated ashes at eight funeral homes last week. As they did, photographs circulated on Chinese social media of thousands of urns being ferried in. Outside one funeral home, trucks shipped in about 2,500
KEEN INTEREST: India is trying to procure medical gear from domestic producers and abroad, and China has emerged as a possible supplier as its factories reopen India is to buy ventilators and masks from China to help it deal with COVID-19, a government official said yesterday, even though some countries in Europe had complained about the quality of the equipment. India has recorded 1,251 cases of the coronavirus, with 32 deaths, but health experts said the country of 1.3 billion people could see a major surge in cases that could overwhelm its weak public health system. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government said that it was trying to procure medical gear, including masks and body coveralls, both from domestic firms and from countries such as South Korea and