Wednesday, July 16, 2008
By Steven L. Taylor

Greg Weeks notes that Ingrid Betancourt is being given and considered for a number of major awards. Specifically, France has conferred upon her the Legion of Honor and Chilean President Bachelet has stated her intention to nominate her for the Nobel Peace Prize

To which Greg remaks:

I hate to sound petty, especially with regard to someone who spent years under captivity in horrific conditions. But I keep thinking about the fact that you’re supposed to do something to win major prizes.

If it helps Greg feel any better, I had similar reactions when I read the news of these accolades. And I say that as someone who is, because I study Colombia and have been quite aware of her plight, extremely sympathetic to Ms. Betancourt. I was as pleased as one could be over her release, despite the fact that I have never met her. Indeed, I rejoice with any release of this nature and think it is a major success for Colombia writ large (and I have a great deal of affection for that place).

Still, while I sort of understand the French honor, it did seem a bit over the top, and the Nobel Peace Prize makes no sense.

Along the same lines, there is the discussion of a potential run at the presidency (more to the point, a second run, as she was kidnapped while running in 2002). For example (via the AFP): Betancourt faces appeals to run for Colombian president

An opinion poll conducted by the National Consulting Center, published in Semana magazine, found that 31 percent of Colombians said they would vote for Betancourt were she to seek the presidency in 2010, putting her near the top of a short list of possible presidential contender

Now, there is little doubt that she has name recognition in Colombia that is near universal, an asset that any candidate would covet. However, at the moment she is practically a political tabula rasa, and one whose appeal is vested very much in sympathy and symbolism, not policy positions.

Beyond that, she has demonstrated a significant amount of electoral prowess in terms of legislative politics. For example, in 1998 her list for the Senate won the most votes in the country, earning two seats. However, she was not able to translate that support into her presidential bid. If memory serves, she was polling in the single digits when she was captured.

Now, should she run in 2010, I expect that she would do a bit better than that. Of course, much would depend on what exactly she would propose policy-wise. Further, questions will emerge as to whether her time in captivity puts her in the appropriate mental state to be president (something that is impolitic, if not impolite, to raise at the moment in mainstream media stories on the miracle of her rescue),

A major question that emerges is under what party label she would seek the nomination (should she choose to do so). At the moment one suspects that the Liberal Party would love to recruit her, given their current status as three-time loser (thanks to the stellar candidacy of Horacio Serpa) not to mention the fact that they actually came in third in 2006. The PL is a possibility because Betancourt was a Liberal during her time in the Chamber. However, she broke with the party when she ran for the Senate in 1998, and was rather critical of the party in her autobiography (Until Death Do Us Part: My Struggle to Reclaim Colombia).

It is possible that she would fit into the new Alternative Democratic Pole (PDA), especially since they use an open primary to nominate their presidential candidates.

There is also the independent route, or the revitalization of the party she formed to run in 1998, the Liberal Oxygen party.

One could certainly see a scenario in which she makes it at least to the second round of the presidential election. Much will also depend on whether Álvaro Uribe finds a way to run for a third term or not. There is also the question of who else would run should he fail to have that chance.

Regardless of all of that, and to come back to Greg’s basic point: the honest truth is that while Betancourt’s rescue is a wonderful thing, the bottom line is that it really doesn’t necessarily make her any more qualified to be the President of Colombia than she was when she was running before. As such, a lot of these responses are clearly fueled primarily (if not exclusively) by emotion.

One could argue that her experiences in the jungle give her a unique perspective that would be of value to a president, yet on the other hand she has been totally out of touch with the world for six years–not an inconsiderable gap in knowledge and experience. There is also the aforementioned issue of the trauma and mental wear that the events will potentially have on her.

Setting aside the presidency, I have no doubt that she could easily be re-elected to the Senate in 2010, should she choose to pursue that possibility. Indeed, it seems likely that something along those lines will occur. As per the linked AFP article:

“I have come to the conclusion that I probably will return to politics, because it is my destiny, but I’m not going to speak about that now,” she said in an interview published Sunday.

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2 Responses to “More on Ingrid Betancourt (Honors and Political Future Edition)”

  1. MSS Says:

    Given the electoral system change, the question of what party she would run on also applies to a possible new Senate candidacy. I would not count on her ability to win with her own little green party. 2% (the threshold) is more than it seems. However, as you say, Steven, her name recognition makes her a potential star.

    Not much to add to what you said about a presidential bid.

    Or on the Nobel. While I agree with what you and Greg say, I would simply argue that she has not accomplished notably less (and arguably more) for peace than such other winners (terrorists like Yassir Arafat and Henry Kissinger and come immediately to mind).

  2. Dr. Steven Taylor Says:

    @MSS – I concur that the rules are clearly less favorable for a micro-party, but I think that she could pull it off. Still, you are right: there is a clear incentive for her to join another party/be recruited by one.

    And you make a point about past Nobel laureates. Perhaps the whole conversation says something about the Prize itself.

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