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CNN Larry King Live

Interview with Former FARC Hostage, Ingrid Betancourt

Aired July 09, 2008 - 21:00   ET


LARRY KING, HOST: Good evening and welcome to a very special edition of LARRY KING LIVE -- special because of our special guest.
Ingrid Betancourt joins us from the Hotel Meurice in Paris. We all know the story. One week ago, she was released from six years of being a hostage.

Has it all -- has it all set in, Ingrid?

Is it a week now that you can say I -- I've got it down?

INGRID BETANCOURT, FORMER FARC HOSTAGE: I'm trying to keep myself together. It has been a very intense and very tiring week. I'm just exhausted. And I'm going to try to do my best to -- to give my best to you. I hope that my English will survive, because I'm not sure I will find my words. But I'll try to concentrate the best I can.

KING: Well, you sound terrific.

How are you physically? Are you getting medical treatment?

BETANCOURT: Yes. Yes. I -- I had all kind of medical tests, which I think it was important because it gave me like a bit of tranquility. I have other tests to go through, but I'm under -- I'm being taken care of by good doctors. So I'm fine. I'll be fine. I'm fine.

KING: You were reunited with your children, Lorenzo and Melanie, in Bogota after the rescue. You spoke in Spanish, but we've got an English translation.

Let's take a look.


BETANCOURT (through translator): The children, they are my pride and my reason for living -- my sun, my moon, my stars. Because of them, I continued my -- the wish to leave that jungle, because I wanted to see them again.


KING: Ingrid, what changes have you noticed in your children?

BETANCOURT: So many. They are bigger than me. They are stronger. They are amazing human beings, Larry. It's -- you know, during all these years I had like dreamed of that moment of being with them. And then when I came to live that moment, it was just like better -- much, much better than what I dreamed. So I am just so thankful with God because, well, I know they suffered and I know they could have been full of anger and bitterness. And I found -- how to say this -- like higher spiritual beings. I think they went to -- well, I don't know if I explained what I mean, but it's like...

KING: Yes.

BETANCOURT: ...feeling that they are...

KING: A higher place.

BETANCOURT: Yes, in a higher place with light, with spiritual lights inside themselves.

KING: Nine days before you were taken captive by the FARC, you and other political candidates met with their leaders.

Let's take a look at some of what you said then.




KING: They did not listen to you, did they?

BETANCOURT: They don't listen to anyone.

KING: Did you fear that FARC might do something harmful to you personally?

BETANCOURT: Oh, I thought exactly the opposite. I thought that perhaps because I had been with them, because I had been talking to them, especially in that moment that you -- that you show there in that -- in the around that table where we were talking, I thought that -- I mean I didn't think that they could harm me.

KING: Let's go back to February 23rd, 2002, the day you were kidnapped.

As briefly as you can, what happened that day?

Where were you? How were you taken?

BETANCOURT: Well, it's a horrible, it's a horrible memory. I was in my presidential campaign. And it was a very hard time for my campaign. I wanted to go to San Vicente because the people of San Vicente had elected a member of my party as mayor of San Vicente. And they had allowed -- I mean they had offered their space to -- so that the negotiation -- the peace negotiations between the government and the FARC could be done in San Vicente.

But when those peace talks ended, they were frightened they might be subject to retaliation. So I wanted to be with them because they also thought that perhaps they could be like kind of a shield that could protect them.

KING: And you were grabbed?

BETANCOURT: And I was grabbed going to San Vicente.

KING: We'll be right back with more of Ingrid Betancourt and this incredible story.

Next, Ingrid's relationship with her kidnappers.

What was it? And did it change for the better or worse over the years?

More with Miss. Betancourt when LARRY KING LIVE returns.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Confirmation this morning of a kidnapping in Colombia. Rebels abducted a presidential candidate as she was driving toward a rebel-controlled town. The campaign manager for former Senator Ingrid Betancourt says she was taken yesterday.


KING: Our guest is Ingrid Betancourt. She is in Paris.

Did you fear for your life, Ingrid, during the kidnapping? And did you think their objective might be to kill you?

BETANCOURT: Oh, I'm sure. I mean it was -- that was -- I mean I lived for nearly seven years with the awareness that death was my everyday companion. So that I knew that they had orders and that if I was to be subject to a rescue, I was -- they had orders to kill me.

KING: During the kidnapping, one of the guerrillas stepped on a land mine and was seriously hurt. It's been reported you demanded that he be helped.

Did that happen?

BETANCOURT: Yes. Yes, it happened. It was -- it happened just when we were pulling the car to the side because they wanted us to change -- I mean to take another small trail different from the road. And in the intersection, the guys -- there was a group of guerrillas. And they wanted all to get inside the car we were using.

And I suppose, I don't know, perhaps the guy forgot that he had planted a mine there. But the thing is that he stepped on it. And he was he lost his leg. It was -- it was -- I was, at the time I thought that perhaps -- I mean the only thing that I had in mind was to keep those guys calm. So I said that whatever, if they wanted us to take the guy to hospital or whatever.

KING: Thinking on your feet. Were you physically injured during the actual kidnapping?


KING: During the initial hours, were you physically restrained?

Did they tie you up? What did they do early on?

BETANCOURT: Well, the -- it's difficult to understand how just by like -- I mean immediately you are into another situation. I mean you are a free woman and then you become a prisoner. And when you become a prisoner, immediately you receive orders, all kind of orders -- sit here, stand there. I mean that's it. You just you don't have the possibility of -- I mean even moving to take your bag or anything without asking permission. And that's a huge.

KING: Did you try to reason with them? Did you plead with them? Did you say let me go?

BETANCOURT: You know, Larry, at that time I really couldn't even imagine that I was taking the road for seven years. For me, I mean I thought perhaps it could last for three months at the most. I mean I couldn't imagine what was going to come.

KING: Kidnapped with you was Clara Rojas, the lawyer who was named your running mate. The FARC freed her and another woman in January. Clara was held for five years and 10 months.

Have you -- have you been in touch?

BETANCOURT: I saw all the persons that were freed before me. They were my companions for many years and I had them in my heart. It was a huge emotion to see them again. And I especially think about Risaladio Perez (ph). He was somebody very special to me. We had incredible -- we had to live incredible things together. And he has been doing incredible work to fight and advocate for the remaining soldiers and policeman that are still in the hands of the FARC.

KING: Clara...


KING: I'm sorry.


KING: Clara had a baby boy, a little Emmanuel.

Were you involved -- did you -- did you save his life?

BETANCOURT: I don't want to talk too much about that, Larry. I think that there are things that are just -- there are things that have to be, you know, I mean, I think that many things happen in the jungle that we have to leave in the jungle.

KING: Our guest is Ingrid Betancourt. Coming up, Ingrid's day to day existence in captivity.

What did she eat and where did she sleep? How did she live in chains?

And what everyone wants to know -- was she tortured?

Ingrid Betancourt, our special guest. She's in Paris.

We'll be right back.


KING: Ingrid Betancourt, when you're held for six years and three months, were you able to keep track?

Did you know if it was Sunday or Thursday? Did you know if it was May or June?

BETANCOURT: I had that in mind very precisely. You know, in the jungle every day is like the other. So you need to have a special discipline to make things different and to keep in your memory the dates and the days. And I think that's something that's very important when you are held hostage. You need to keep -- I mean to keep your feet on the ground.

I remember, for example, I would do something special for the -- for special occasions. For Christmas, for example. For New Year's. I mean, for them, it was another day like every other day. So I really wanted to just -- I wanted to be able to know when I would remember all those years what -- where I was and what was I doing, for example, for the birthday of my children. So I really, really worked on that.

KING: You said that you suffered terribly during the captivity.

What was the worst thing you experienced?

BETANCOURT: I think that the worst thing is realizing that mankind -- that -- that human beings can be so horrible to other human beings.

KING: I guess you know it when you read about Nazis or others. But when you experience it yourself, it has to really come to life.

Were you in the jungle the whole time?

BETANCOURT: Yes, the whole time. It was very enduring, because in the jungle, you don't have a horizon. You don't see the sky. You are in a cave of vegetation. So it's very (INAUDIBLE).

KING: Did they move you around a lot?

BETANCOURT: Yes, we had -- that's one of the things that you have to endure. You -- you never know what's going to happen to you. So you can be just having your lunch and then a second after you are complied to do your -- I mean to pack your bag and to get ready to go. And you have five minutes to get ready. And that can happen at any time. Sometimes you stay in a camp for a day or you can stay in a camp for six months. You never know.

KING: The obvious question, were you sexually mistreated?

BETANCOURT: I won't answer that question, Larry. I think that -- no, I won't answer those questions.


BETANCOURT: I told you that there are things...

KING: You do not have to.

BETANCOURT: ...that are going to stay in the jungle.

KING: I understand.

All right, 14 other hostages, including three Americans, were rescued along with you.

Did you know all of them?

BETANCOURT: All of them. All of them. They were my family for four years. They were my support. I learned a lot by living with them. I love them. And I'm so glad we are all free.

We had always a kind of bad feeling that, perhaps, one of us could get free before the others. And it was painful for all of us. So I'm so glad that they are all out. And I know that they feel like me when I -- when I just have this kind of obsession that we have to still work for the others. We could be over there. We could be the ones left in the jungle. We have this incredible luck to be here.

So, for me, it's very, very important -- it's very important to ask to all the people that can help us to fight for the release of the ones who are still in the jungle.

KING: Ingrid tried to escape, even got the jump on her captors.

Why she didn't make it is next.

You're watching LARRY KING LIVE.


KING: Ingrid Betancourt is our special guest.

Throughout your captivity, the family tried to get messages through to you. Here are two examples from your children.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE (through translator): We adore you with all my heart, all my heart. I love you so much. Be strong. Be strong. I adore you, Mommy. Kisses Mommy. Mommy, I adore you. UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): I adore you mommy, honestly. Be strong, like you always taught us.


KING: Did that get through to you?

BETANCOURT: Yes. Yes, I heard all of it.

KING: What kind of shelter did you have? You live in tents, shacks, what? Where did you sleep?

BETANCOURT: We slept under tents. We slept under tents, like camping, but it was camouflage material.

KING: Bugs, animals?

BETANCOURT: You know, Larry, when I arrived to Bogota and now that I'm here, I had the incredible sensation that I wasn't scratching myself. I had been scratching myself for seven years, every day. Every day I had a bug or some kind of insect. I mean, you -- you know, I -- it was hell. It was hell for the body. It was hell for the soul. It was hell for the mind. Everything was so horrible. I mean, every -- we had all kind of pain, little pains, big pains.

KING: You were physically tortured, as well as mentally tortured?

BETANCOURT: We all were. We all were.

KING: You never, obviously, forget that. Were you ever blindfolded? Did your captors hide your faces from anyone?

BETANCOURT: Yes, we had all that. We had all that. We had chains. We had -- we had to be covered. We had to hide. We had to run. We also had eyes covered.

KING: Did you get medical treatment?

BETANCOURT: It was very difficult to get medicine. It was very difficult to get medicine. In my case, it was -- well, there was -- there was no doctors, no nurses. They had people that had some kind of drugs to hand over when somebody had some kind of pain or illness, but, I mean, there was no medical treatment, no.

KING: How about bathing, going to the bathroom, you know, simple, everyday things?

BETANCOURT: Well, for me, it -- everything was difficult because I was the only woman in a camp with other men. Everything for me was difficult, bathing, changing myself. I was always late for everything. I had this hair that had grown and grown and grown. And washing my hair took me longer than -- than the others. So I was always late and I was always -- I mean, was always -- I was always subject to -- to -- I mean, they screamed and that was everyday life.

KING: What happened during the escape attempt?

BETANCOURT: Well, that was huge. Well, what happened, we were lucky not to die in the attempt. I think that's what happened. And we made it. I mean, the sense that we got out of the -- of the camp. And then we had incredible things that happened to us. And at the end, my companion was ill. He had diabetes. And we had to choose. And we had to choose between continuing or saving his life.

KING: You saved his life.

Do you hate the FARC?

BETANCOURT: No, not at all.

KING: You don't?

BETANCOURT: No, no. I don't -- first, it's like a kind of position I took many years ago, that when I would be released, I wouldn't take out of the jungle any kind of bitterness or any kind of eager to -- seek for revenge, anything of that. And now that I am out, I feel that I'm, like, in another planet. It seems so far. Those people seem so -- I mean, aliens to me, you know? I mean, I'm so -- it's incredible how in a week the distance between that life and this life.

I mean, it's -- well, I don't -- I -- the only thing I want is -- I pray God to give them his blessing. I want -- I don't want to forget, but I want to forgive.

KING: Ahead, Ingrid's incredible rescue. What was that moment like? We'll ask after the break.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE: After six years in captivity, Ingrid Betancourt steps off a military aircraft.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A dramatic and successful rescue mission.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Prominent politician who was kidnapped.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Ingrid Betancourt rescued, along with three Americans.


KING: Ingrid, before we talk about the rescue, after you had an escape attempt, were you punished?

BETANCOURT: Oh, yes. Oh, that was horrible. Oh, that was --

KING: Can you give us an example of what they did?

BETANCOURT: No, Larry no. I'm not ready for that, you know. I just -- I don't want to fill myself with those memories. I want to --

KING: I understand completely. Did you see anybody at all killed?


KING: All right. Take me to the rescue day. Where were you at that moment? What happened?

BETANCOURT: We had -- we woke up at 4:00 in the morning, like normally. We listen to the radio to have news. I listened to the messages of my mother. There's a special program in Colombia where you can talk to your hostage family members and, well, she used to call me at that time every day. Then they took out the chains and they said that we needed to be ready, that we had to pack, so everybody get ready.

They made us wait all morning and then we knew from the information one of the commanders gave us that there was a helicopter coming with a -- some kind of international commission. They didn't know -- or they -- well, I don't know, but what the commander said is they didn't know what the commission was going to do or if it was a commission -- but what they thought was going to happen was that we were going to be taken in that helicopter -- I'm sorry.

That helicopter would transfer us to another place that we might perhaps talk to a higher commander. I thought perhaps it was the new chief of the FARC. But we really didn't know what to expect. And then we heard the helicopters and they landed. I think there were five -- five guys and a woman that went out of the helicopter. And we were surprised because it was -- they didn't match to what we were expecting. We thought it was perhaps a French guy or a Swiss guy and those guys were, like -- I mean, they would speak Spanish, but it was like with a strange accent. So we didn't know if they were Cubans or if they were Venezuelans or --

And then one of the guys, like the leader of the group, began talking to the commander, to Caesar, the chief of the first front, and to Enrique, the guy who had been our keeper. He was a very cruel guy, very mean. And they -- they hug each other and -- I mean, it was like they knew each other. I didn't really understand really -- he brought, like, drinks for them. He left, like, I know sodas, like a gift.

It was very strange. So I thought this is -- I mean, this is something. I mean this is not going to be any -- I mean, there's no release here. None of us is going to be freed. I mean, this is -- I mean, it's like, they're going to transfer us. And there was this camera. And they were filming us. And I was thinking, they just want to tape us so that the world sees that we are alive, and they're going to transfer us to some other place. And this is going to go on and on and on for four more years, five, six more years?

So we were -- I was very depressed at that point, and very deceptioned (sic) and I think that my fellow hostages were as depressed as I was. Some of them got angry. And then they said that if we wanted to go into the helicopter, we needed to be handcuffed. And that was so -- I mean so humiliating. We had those guys armed around us, and on top of that they wanted us to be handcuffed?

KING: Ingrid -- hold it right there Ingrid. Let me take a break and we'll come right back and finish that end of the story of the incredible rescue of Ingrid Betancourt. Don't go away.


KING: OK, Ingrid, in the interest of time, they now take you aboard the helicopter and you learn you're freed, right? Did someone say you're free? What happens?

BETANCOURT: When the helicopter took elevation, the leader of the group -- they first neutralized the commander, Enrique. Well, I saw the commander of the FARC. He was on the floor. He was, I mean, neutralized. And then I heard the voice of the leader saying, this is Colombian Army. You are free.

KING: Did you believe it right away?

BETANCOURT: It's incredible.

KING: Did you believe it right away, or did you think it was a trick?

BETANCOURT: Oh, no, no, no. It was -- who would -- I mean, who would play with something like this? The energy was so -- I mean, the guy -- the voice of the guy was so -- he was -- he was transmitting an incredible energy. It was like this is your prize. Look what you've done. It was like it's for you guys. This is your freedom. It was like a gift. It was wonderful. It was beautiful.

KING: What was your first reaction? Do you remember your first reaction?

BETANCOURT: Yes. I screamed. I couldn't talk. I screamed. It was like a yell from -- it was a scream that went from the bottom of my stomach. And then I hugged everyone I could hug. I would have hugged anyone, I mean, at that second. I hugged the one that was beside me, in front. I would kiss everybody. I mean, it was crazy. It was very intense. We were crying.

KING: Ingrid, through all of this, did you ever lose your faith?

BETANCOURT: Never. Never, Larry. Never. I never lost my faith. And God was with me from the first day to the end of this horrible experience. And He's still with me. And I pray every day. From the moment I have been released, I pray that He might give us the miracle of freeing the other ones like He did for us. I know He's -- I mean, for me it was a miracle.

KING: How long was that helicopter ride?

BETANCOURT: Well, I -- for me, it was like -- I don't know. It was too long. I was very scared because I had this fear that, you know, when you have been like for seven years everything you think just, I mean, doesn't happen. So I thought, oh, my God, now we have freedom. What if the helicopter crashes? What if we have an accident? I mean, it was stupid to think about that, but that was my -- so they said -- I ask how long will the flight be? And they said to me three minutes. And those three minutes were, I mean, like eternity, until we landed.

KING: We're going to take a break and come back. We'll be back with our remaining moments with Ingrid Betancourt and ask the key question. What's her future in politics? Don't go away.



UNIDENTIFIED MALE (through translator): It is all of France that is welcoming you back today.

BETANCOURT (through translator): I cried a lot during all this time of pain. Now I cry out of joy. These are tears of joy.


KING: They say once a politician, always a politician.

Ingrid, will you run for office again?

BETANCOURT: I have never been a politician, Larry.

KING: But you ran for office. If you run for office, you're a politician.

Anyway, will you run?


But you know what, look, I think that -- I think that that word, politician, is kind of eroded. I don't like it. I think that it gives a negative connotation to what I want to do.

I want to serve. I want to be available. I want to be there for the ones that need --

KING: Would that mean running for an office?

BETANCOURT: No, it doesn't mean -- no. It doesn't mean -- I mean, what I want you to understand, Larry, is that -- I mean, I'm not saying that it won't happen. I'm just saying that it's not my priority and that it's not so important now.

KING: How has it changed you?

BETANCOURT: I'm the same woman, but I'm -- I know that deep in my heart, I've changed in many ways. I have changed in the way I relate to people, in the way I react to many things. I have a more -- I changed also my goals in life. I think that the only thing that remains perhaps is my desire to be there for others and to help. But I think that there are other ways to help without -- I mean, there are other ways to help, to be there.

KING: And one other thing, Ingrid. What was it like when you saw your mother?

BETANCOURT: Oh, my God. That was incredible.

I had that fear to -- I had left my mother. She was a beautiful woman with an incredible energy. And after six and a half years, I thought perhaps I'm going to find an old woman. I was afraid. And God bless me because she was intact. I mean, it was like if time didn't touch her. So it was incredible, the feeling of hugging her. And, you know, after all these years, just listening to her voice, to being able to touch her; it was very, very, very deep. It was something very special.

KING: Ingrid, thank you for a very, very special hour, Ingrid.

Continued good fortune to you. Good luck and good health.

BETANCOURT: Thank you. Thank you, Larry.

KING: That was quite an hour, and an honor to speak with Ingrid Betancourt. We wish her the very best. All of that, we thank the cooperation of the Hotel Meurice in Paris, France.

We now hand it over to Anderson Cooper and "AC 360."