By Dialogo July 02, 2009 Bogotá, July 1 (EFE).- A year after being rescued by the army, former presidential candidate and former FARC hostage Ingrid Betancourt lives outside Colombia. She is in the middle of a divorce, and is finishing a book that everyone predicts will be a best-seller. After six years as a hostage, Betancourt was freed on 2 July, 2008 during an undercover military operation known as “Operation Jaque” together with Americans Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, and Tom Howes, as well as eleven Colombian police and military personnel, some of whom spent more than ten years captive in the jungle. In an operation that is considered almost a masterpiece of military intelligence and that took place a year ago tomorrow, a group of uniformed personnel passed themselves off as humanitarian aid workers and freed the fifteen hostages without firing a shot. “Thank you to the army of my country, Colombia, thank you for the impeccable operation; the operation was perfect,” were the first words of the former hostage when she arrived, free, in Bogotá that day. Betancourt, who was the most valuable hostage held by the guerrillas of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), was kidnapped on 23 February 2002 in the jungle department of Caquetá while campaigning for that year’s elections, two days after the breakdown of peace negotiations between the administration of then President Andrés Pastrana and the guerilla group. Both her friends and her critics acknowledge that her kidnapping took place in the context of what was almost a provocation, given that the civil and military authorities had recommended that she not go near the region dominated by the guerrillas at a moment of such tension. But her rebellious personality did not allow her to listen to this advice, and she was taken hostage together with her running mate, then-vice-presidential candidate Clara Rojas. She kept up this kind of “insolence” during her years of captivity, as her fellow kidnapping victims have recalled in various books published since their liberation. The most severe critics have been Americans Marc Gonsalves, Keith Stansell, and Thomas Howes, who in their book “Out of Captivity” tell the story of how Ingrid protested when they arrived at the camp at which they met her for the first time because, in her view, this meant sharing the limited space available to the hostages. The Pentagon contractors, captured in 2003 when their airplane crashed in the jungle during an operation in search of FARC cocaine laboratories, recount that Betancourt accused them in front of their kidnappers of belonging to the CIA, placing them in serious danger. The Americans label Betancourt “selfish and lacking solidarity” when it came time to share food, clothing, radios, and books, essential items in the jungle that enabled them to survive better in that hell. Clara Rojas, although she has been discreet, has acknowledged that her relationship with Ingrid deteriorated because “she did not behave like a friend.” One of Betancourt’s unconditional supporters is former senator Luis Eladio Pérez, with whom she appears to have maintained a romantic relationship while kidnapped, according to the Americans’ account in their book. Another supporter is Sgt. William Pérez, a nurse who took care of Ingrid during her most difficult moments and who continues to correspond with her on a weekly basis, as he indicated to EFE. Once freed, Betancourt traveled to Paris, where she was reunited with her children, and where she has filed for divorce from publicist Juan Carlos Lecompte, her second husband, whom she married in Polynesia in 1997. Ingrid petitioned for divorce alleging “de facto separation” for years, while it seems that Lecompte feels offended by the “ingratitude” shown by his wife, according to a report published last week in Caras magazine . Following her rescue, the former presidential candidate traveled to various countries, and she was received by Latin American and European leaders, even the Pope, and was awarded several prizes, among them the Prince of Asturias Award for Concord , due to her “dignity” and “courage.” She was even a candidate for the Nobel Peace Prize, after being named “Woman of the Year 2008” by the organization Women’s World Award, sponsored by former Soviet president Mikhail Gorbachev. In Colombia, these awards have been met with ill-will in some sectors, as many former hostages and members of civil society believe that Betancourt is no more deserving than other former kidnapping victims who continue to work for peace away from the spotlight. At present, Ingrid divides her time between Paris and New York, makes few public appearances, and is concentrating on writing her dramatic story, a book that even before reaching bookstores, it is destined to become a best-seller.
Queer and Ally Student Assembly co-Director Varsha Sivaram speaks at the Solidarity Rally in September. Sivaram said the annual OUTlist is a way to commemorate Coming Out Month. (Emily Smith)Early next week, the Queer and Ally Student Assembly will publish its annual OUTlist, a collection of University-affiliated names and organizations intended to show support for the queer community on campus. The list received 672 signatures this year throughout the month of October, including student organizations Asian Pacific American Student Assembly, Undergraduate Student Government, El Centro Chicano and Daily Trojan.“The OUTlist is a platform where transfers, students, faculty and staff can show their support and solidarity toward students of the queer community,” Undergraduate Student Government co-Chief Diversity Officer Milton Dimas said. The OUTlist, according to the LGBT Resource Center website, is inspired by a 1990 publication of 50 signatures from students who pledged to end homophobia and accept all people on campus. Since then, the OUTlist has only grown and gained support at USC.“We do it in commemoration of Coming Out Month because it’s a sensitive time for a lot of queer folks,” QuASA co-Director Varsha Sivaram said. Sivaram said an informal version of the OUTlist — a whiteboard people were encouraged to sign — was put up at QuASA events this year to help spread awareness for the actual online document. Another addition to the OUTlist, according to Sivaram, was a quote section where people could state why they had signed the document.One particular quote that stood out to her expressed that support is fundamental to queer individuals who are still coming out. “It’s the notion [that] if I had had someone who was publicly supportive of the queer community or was secure in their queerness who came out and said it was okay for me when I was coming out, that would have been enormously helpful,” Sivaram said. The OUTlist demonstrates USC’s commitment to supporting the queer community on campus, Dimas said. “It’s important to continue to [have the OUTlist] because students who identify as queer should feel welcomed, considering the fact that we [are a] Trojan Family,” Dimas said. Erin Cooney, co-director of QuASA, said that it is crucial to give allies a chance to declare their support and the LGBTQ community an opportunity to see its supporters. Sivaram emphasized that the OUTlist provides LGBTQ members with the reassurance that they are not alone without pressuring them to come out.“I think it’s a tangible show of support for folks,” Sivaram said. “It cultivates the notion that there’s a supportive environment for them at USC.” Chris Bradley, a senior majoring in business administration and accounting, signed to OUTlist. He said the list allows queer individuals a chance to be comfortable with their identities, regardless of whether they are out or not. “The biggest thing for me was to break the stereotype and to have people be open with themselves,” Bradley said. “There’s still a couple kids at USC who haven’t come out, which is surprising considering this is a relatively friendly campus. It goes to show that even in 2018 there’s a lot of work to be done.” Bradley said the OUTlist provides a source of pride for queer students. “It’s a mark of progress we’ve made,” Bradley said. “[The OUTlist] goes to show how confident [we are] and how far we’ve come. I feel very strongly that we are not going to go back.” Further plans to expand the OUTlist include coordinating an event geared toward garnering more signatures. “Our mission during Coming Out Month … is giving people safe spaces in order to express themselves,” Cooney said. “Even within the queer community people have such different identities and experiences that it is significant to give people a place or opportunity to have those conversations.”
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