Authors: Ingrid Betancourt
Table of Contents
ALSO BY INGRID BETANCOURT
Until Death Do Us Part: My Struggle to Reclaim Colombia
Letter to My Mother
THE PENGUIN PRESS NEW YORK 2010
THE PENGUIN PRESS
Published by the Penguin Group
Penguin Group (USA) Inc., 375 Hudson Street, New York, New York 10014, U.S.A. • Penguin Group (Canada), 90 Eglinton Avenue East, Suite 700, Toronto, Ontario, Canada M4P 2Y3 (a division of Pearson Penguin Canada Inc.) • Penguin Books Ltd, 80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England • Penguin Ireland, 25 St. Stephen’s Green, Dublin 2, Ireland (a division of Penguin Books Ltd) • Penguin Books Australia Ltd, 250 Camberwell Road, Camberwell, Victoria 3124, Australia (a division of Pearson Australia Group Pty Ltd) • Penguin Books India Pvt Ltd, 11 Community Centre, Panchsheel Park, New Delhi - 110 017, India • Penguin Group (NZ), 67 Apollo Drive, Rosedale, North Shore 0632,
New Zealand (a division of Pearson New Zealand Ltd) • Penguin Books (South Africa) (Pty) Ltd,
24 Sturdee Avenue, Rosebank, Johannesburg 2196, South Africa
Penguin Books Ltd, Registered Offices:
80 Strand, London WC2R 0RL, England
First published in 2010 by The Penguin Press,
a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
Copyright © Ingrid Betancourt, 2010
All rights reserved
Translated from the French by Alison Anderson, with the collaboration of Sarah Llewellyn
LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOGING IN PUBLICATION DATA
Betancourt, Ingrid, date.
Even silence has an end : my six years of captivity in the Colombian jungle / Ingrid Betancourt. p. cm.
eISBN : 978-1-101-44291-3
1. Betancourt, Ingrid, 1961—Captivity, 2002-2008. 2. Betancourt, ingrid, 1961—Kidnapping, 2002. 3. Hostages—Colombia—Biography. 4. Kidnapping victims—Colombia—Biography. 5. Political kidnapping—Colombia. 6. Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia. 7. Women presidential candidates—Colombia—Biography. 8. Women legislators—Colombia—Biography. 9. Colombia—Biography. 10. Colombia—Politics and government—1974- I. Title.
Without limiting the rights under copyright reserved above, no part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in or introduced into a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means (electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise), without the prior written permission of both the copyright owner and the above publisher of this book.
The scanning, uploading, and distribution of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the publisher is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrightable materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.
Penguin is committed to publishing works of quality and integrity.
In that spirit, we are proud to offer this book to our readers;
however, the story, the experiences, and the words
are the author’s alone.
To my brothers who are still held hostage.
To my companions in captivity.
To all those who fought for our freedom.
To Astrid, Melanie, Lorenzo, Sebastian, and Fabrice.
To my mother
ESCAPING THE CAGE
I had made my decision to escape. It wasn’t the first time. This was my fourth attempt, but after my last one the conditions of our captivity had become even more terrible. They had put us in a cage made of wooden boards, with a tin roof. Summer was coming, and for over a month now we had not had any storms at night. And a storm was absolutely necessary. I spotted a half-rotten board in a corner of our cage. By pushing hard with my foot, I split it enough to make an opening. I did this one afternoon after lunch, when the guard was dozing on his feet, balanced on his rifle. But it made a dreadful noise. The guard, edgy, walked all around the cage slowly, like a pacing animal. I followed him, peering through the slits between the boards, holding my breath. He stopped twice, put his eye up to a hole, and for a split second our eyes met. He jumped back, terrified. Then, to regain his composure, he planted himself at the entrance to the cage; this was his revenge. He would not take his eyes off me.
I avoided his gaze and thought carefully. Could someone squeeze through that opening? In principle, if you could get your skull through, your body would follow. In my childhood games, I squeezed through the bars of the fence at Parc Monceau, headfirst. It was always your head that blocked everything. But I was no longer so sure. It worked for the body of a child, but for an adult were the proportions the same? I was all the more worried because although we, Clara and I, were terribly thin, I had noticed over the last few weeks a sort of swelling of our bodies, probably liquid retention from enforced immobility. In my companion it was very visible. It was harder for me to judge my own condition, because we didn’t have a mirror.
I had talked to her about this, and it had irritated her no end. We’d made two previous escape attempts, and the subject sowed tension between us. We didn’t talk much. She was touchy, and I was prey to my own obsession. All I could think of was freedom, finding a way to escape from the hands of the FARC.
So I spent the entire day plotting, preparing in detail the equipment for our expedition, giving importance to stupid things. For example, I could not conceive of leaving without my jacket. I had forgotten that the jacket was not waterproof, and once it got wet it would weigh a ton. I also thought we ought to take the mosquito net along.
I’ll have to figure out what to do about the boots. At night we always leave them in the same place, at the entrance to the cage. I’ll have to start bringing them inside, so they get used to not seeing them anymore when we’re asleep. . . . And we’ll have to get hold of a machete. To protect ourselves from wild beasts and to clear our way through the vegetation. It will be almost impossible. They’re on their guard. They haven’t forgotten that we already managed to steal one when they were setting up the old camp. . . . Take scissors—they lend them to us from time to time. I have to think about food, too. We have to stock up without their realizing. And it all has to be wrapped up in plastic, because we’ll have to swim. It can’t be too heavy, or we’ll have difficulty making headway. We have to be as light as possible. And I must take my treasures: I can’t possibly leave behind the photos of my children and the keys to my apartment.
I spent the day turning such questions over and over in my mind. Twenty times or more, I thought about our route once we were out of the cage. I tried to calculate all sorts of things: where the river must be, how many days it would take us until we could get help. I imagined the horror of an anaconda attacking us in the water, or an enormous cayman like the one whose red and shining eyes I had seen in the guard’s flashlight when we were coming down the river. I saw myself wrestling with a jaguar; the guards had regaled us with a ferocious description. I thought of everything that might possibly frighten me, to prepare myself psychologically and be ready to respond. I had to know how to control my emotions. I’d decided that this time nothing would stop me.
I could think of nothing else. I no longer slept, because I understood that my brain worked better in the quiet of the evening. I observed, and I took note of everything: what time the guards changed watch, where each one stood, who stayed awake, who fell asleep, who would report to his replacement on the number of times we’d gotten up to pee. . . .
I also tried to continue communicating with my companion, to prepare her for the effort the escape would require, the precautions to take, the noises we must avoid making. She listened to me in silence, exasperated, and would only answer to refuse or disagree. We had to prepare decoys to leave where we slept, to give the impression of a body curled up on the bed. I was not allowed outside the cage, except to go to the
when nature called. This was an opportunity to rummage through the garbage dump in the hope of discovering some precious item.
I came back one evening with some bits of cardboard and an old sack that had been soaked in decomposing food: ideal to build our decoys. My behavior annoyed the guard. Because he didn’t know whether he ought to forbid me from taking things, he shouted at me to get a move on, reinforcing his invective with a wave of his gun. As for Clara, my booty disgusted her, because she couldn’t understand what possible use it might be.
I realized the gulf between us. Stuck together, reduced to a regime of Siamese twins who have nothing in common, we lived in opposite worlds: She was trying to adapt, I could only think of escape.
After a particularly hot day, the wind rose. The jungle went silent for a few moments. Not a single peep from a bird or rustling of a wing. We all turned toward the wind, to breathe in the weather—a storm was approaching rapidly.
Activity in the camp became feverish. Everyone hurried to his task. Some checked the ropes on their tents, others set off at a run to pick up laundry drying in a patch of sunlight, others with greater foresight went to the
in case the storm lasted longer than they could hold out.
I watched all this agitation, my stomach twisted in anxiety, and I prayed to God to give me the strength to go through with it.
Tonight I shall be free.
I repeated this sentence over and over, to ward off the fear that was contracting my muscles and draining my blood, while I struggled to make the gestures I had planned a thousand times during my sleepless nights: I waited until nighttime to build my decoy, folded the big black plastic sheet and slipped it inside my boot, unfolded the little gray plastic bag that would serve as a waterproof poncho, and checked to see if my companion was ready. I waited for the storm to break.
From my previous attempts, I had learned that the best moment to slip away was at dusk, the hour when wolves look like dogs. In the jungle this meant precisely 6:15 P.M. During the few minutes while our eyes adjusted to the darkness and before night fell completely, we were all blind.
I prayed for the storm to break at that time. If we fled the camp just before night took possession of the forests, the guards would change watch without noticing and the alarm would be sounded only the next morning at dawn. That gave us enough time to get away and hide during the day. The teams sent out to look for us would go much faster than we could, because they were much fitter and they had the daylight in their favor. But if we covered our tracks, the farther we got, the greater the area they would have to search. To cover the search area, they would need more men than they had available in the camp. I thought it would be possible to move at night, knowing that they wouldn’t look for us in the dark, and if they did, we would see the beams of their flashlights and hide before they could locate us. After three days, if we walked all night, we would be about twelve miles from the camp, and it would be impossible for them to find us. Then we could start walking during the day, near the river—but not too close, because that would probably be where they would continue their search—to reach a place where, at last, we could find help. It was feasible, yes, and I believed we could do it. But we had to leave early, to gain enough time the first night to maximize the distance from the camp.
That night, though, the opportune moment had come and gone and the storm had still not broken. The wind was blowing incessantly, but the thunder rumbled far away, and a certain tranquillity had returned to the camp. The guard had wrapped himself up in a big black plastic sheet, which made him look like some ancient warrior braving the elements with his cape whipping in the gusts. And everyone waited for the storm with the serenity of the old sailor who thinks he has already secured his cargo.
The minutes passed with infinite slowness. From a radio somewhere in the distance, we could hear strains of happy music. The wind continued to blow, but there was no more thunder. From time to time, a bolt of lightning pierced the cathedral of vegetation, and my retina caught the negative print of the camp. It was cool, almost cold. I could feel the electricity charging the air, making my skin crawl. And then gradually my eyes swelled from trying to see in the dark, and my eyelids grew heavy.
It’s not going to rain tonight.
My head throbbed. Clara had curled up in her corner, overcome by drowsiness. And I, too, was drawn by the wait into a deep sleep.
A drizzle spraying through the boards awoke me. The hair on my arms started bristling. The sound of the first drops of rain on the tin roof finally wrenched me from my torpor. I touched Clara’s arm; It was time to go. With each passing moment, the drops were getting heavier, thicker, closer together. But the night was still too light. The moon was doing its job well. I peered outside through the planks: It was as if it were broad daylight.
We would have to run straight out of the cage in the hope that no one in the neighboring tents would think to look over at our prison just then. I stopped to think. I had no watch; I was counting on my companion’s. She usually got annoyed when I asked her the time. I was reluctant to ask even now, then went ahead. “It’s nine o’clock,” she answered, aware that this was not the moment to create unnecessary tension. The camp was already asleep, which was one good thing. But for us the night was getting shorter and shorter.
The guard was struggling to protect himself from the torrents of water, and the thud of the rain on the tin roof drowned the sound of my feet kicking the rotten boards. By the third kick, the board shattered to bits. But the opening that appeared was not as wide as I had hoped.
I shoved my little backpack through and left it outside. My hands were drenched when I brought them back in. I knew we would have to spend entire days soaked to the bone, and just the thought of it was repugnant. I was furious with myself for thinking that some notion of comfort might interfere with my struggle for freedom. It seemed ridiculous to waste so much time trying to convince myself that I would not get sick, that my skin would not shrivel up at the end of three days of bad weather. I told myself that I’d had life too easy, conditioned by an upbringing where fear of change was disguised as caution. I had observed the young people who held me prisoner, and I could not help but admire them. They didn’t get hot, they didn’t get cold, nothing stung them, they displayed remarkable skill in any activity requiring strength and flexibility, and they moved around the jungle at three times my own pace. The fear I had to overcome was made up of all sorts of prejudices. My first attempt to escape had failed because I was afraid I would die of thirst, because I could not bring myself to drink the brown water in the puddles on the ground. So for months now I had practiced drinking the muddy river water, to prove to myself that I could survive the parasites that must already have colonized my stomach.
Moreover, I suspected the commander of the front who had captured me, “El Mocho” Cesar, of having ordered the guerrillas to “boil the prisoners’ water” in front of me so that I would remain mentally dependent upon this septic measure and be afraid to escape into the jungle.
To instill terror they ordered us to the riverbank to watch the killing of an immense snake they’d caught just as it was about to attack a swimming
The creature was truly a monster, I measured it by counting my steps, it was twenty-five feet long and twenty inches round—the same diameter as my waist. Three men were needed to pull it out of the water. They called it a
, I thought it was an anaconda. They had wanted me to see it with my own eyes. For months I could not get it out of my nightmares.
I saw these young people who were so at ease in the jungle and I felt clumsy, handicapped, worn out. I was beginning to get the impression that it was the idea I had of myself that was in crisis. In a world where I inspired neither respect nor admiration, without the tenderness and love of my family, I felt I was aging without reprieve and, worse still, that I’d been made to despise what I had become—so dependent, so stupid, and utterly useless at resolving even the most trivial everyday problems.
For a few more minutes, through the narrow opening and beyond, I observed the wall of rain that awaited us. Clara was crouching next to me. I turned back to the door of the cage. The guard had disappeared into the storm. Everything was frozen, except the water mercilessly streaming down. Our gazes met. We reached out and clung to each other so tightly it was painful.
We had to go. I pulled away, smoothed my clothes, and lay down next to the hole. I put my head through the boards with encouraging ease, and then my shoulders. I twisted to get my body through, felt stuck, then wriggled nervously to get one of my arms out. Once my arm was clear, I pushed. With the strength of my free hand, digging my nails into the ground, I managed to get my entire upper body out. I edged forward, painfully contorting my hips so that the rest of my body would slide sideways through the opening. I could tell that the end of my struggle was near, and I began to wiggle my feet, with a dread that I might not be able to free myself. At last I was out, and I jumped to my feet. I took two steps to the side so that my companion could get out more easily.