Former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt pledged on Saturday to press Latin American leaders to help get the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebels to disarm, after arriving in Colombia for the first time since she was rescued from guerrillas after a six-year hostage ordeal.
“I am so very happy to be here,” she said shortly after arriving at Bogota’s El Dorado international airport where she and her mother, Yolanda Pulecio, were greeted by French Ambassador Jean-Michel Marlaud.
Betancourt, 46, who holds dual Colombian and French citizenship, flew to France with her family three weeks after her release on July 2. On Saturday she was whisked to a private meeting with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe at the CATAM military airport adjacent to El Dorado.
She said she would visit Quito, Lima, Santiago, Buenos Aires, Sao Paulo, Brazil, La Paz and Caracas.
Her goal is to ask presidents to join a drive to get the FARC to lay down its arms, a statement obtained by AFP said.
Betancourt’s visit to Colombia five months after her rescue will be brief since she has often stated she fears for her life here after receiving death threats from rebels.
The online edition of Brazil’s O Globo daily said Betancourt would meet with Brazilian President Luis Inacio Lula da Silva in Sao Paulo on Friday.
Betancourt’s visit to Colombia comes 24 hours after tens of thousands marched in France, Spain and across Colombia demanding the release of hostages still being held by the FARC, Latin America’s largest and longest-fighting rebel group.
Betancourt headed a demonstration in Madrid alongside Spanish Foreign Minister Miguel Angel Moratinos.
But her homecoming is fuel for mixed feelings in Colombia.
While tens of thousands marched in some 200 Colombian cities on Friday to demand the release of thousands of hostages held by the FARC and other rebel and criminal groups in the country, the demonstrations were far less massively supported than on July 20, when some 4 million Colombians turned out to voice outrage at the ongoing hostage situation.
The lower turnout on Friday was in part blamed on the ill feelings that many Colombians have toward Betancourt for leaving their country so soon after her rescue.
“We feel deeply for her six years of captivity, but she’s using the [hostage] issue as a political platform,” Oscar Morales, the founder of the One Million Voices Against FARC movement, told Bogota’s El Tiempo newspaper.
Betancourt has said that she does not wish to return to politics in Colombia.