In 2007, FD’s Colombian subsidiary, FD Gravitas, took action against the kidnapping of well-known political figure and presidential candidate in Colombia, Ingrid Betancourt, through an awareness campaign for her release from capture by leftist guerillas. The campaign helped end the apathy that Colombians felt towards more than five decades of conflict and begin what has been hailed by Colombian media as the awakening of Colombian civil society.
Ingrid Betancourt was rescued by the Colombian Armed Forces in July 2008 and she has continued to seek the liberation of all those still held hostage in the jungles of Colombia.
Although Colombia has made significant advances fighting against insurgent forces within its own territory, the country is still facing more than five decades of internal conflict. Unfortunately, kidnapping has been a sad testimony to the cruelty of this conflict. In 2000, guerillas increasingly resorted to kidnapping thousands of civilians, political leaders and members of the Armed Forces, keeping them hostage in the jungles of Colombia.
But over the course of time, the Colombian public became hopeless and indifferent to the hostages’ plight. Since Colombians did not want to be faced daily with a seemingly endless conflict and President Uribe was making progress in fighting the insurgents, the Colombian people wanted to look toward more promising times and had ceased to exercise pressure for the release of hostages.
Among the hundreds of hostages, the most visible group of kidnapped individuals consisted of members of the Armed Forces (at one point several hundred were held hostage, but some were released through a government negotiation in late 2002), several politicians (members of Congress and a former governor) and the most well-known of all, political figure and former presidential candidate, Ingrid Betancourt.
Before she was kidnapped in 2002 by the FARC in Colombia’s southeast after peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the guerrillas failed, Betancourt was a popular political figure both in Colombia and in France (due to her dual citizenship). As a presidential candidate, she had also authored a bestselling book about her political career, had always taken on and was active in controversial issues, and possessed a strong, combative spirit.
Little was known about Betancourt’s well-being until November 2007, when the Colombian Army found evidence that she was still alive and being held by the FARC. A proof of life video was also recovered, showing Betancourt and other hostages in haggard form and poor health. The Colombian Army also released a package of letters written by some missing hostages, one of which was a heart wrenching letter Betancourt had written to her mother.
The letter truly captivated Betancourt’s plight and years of suffering while also demonstrating her strength in character and unbreakable spirit, but in spite of this, Betancourt continued to be held captive by her kidnappers.
After reading Betancourt’s letter to her mother, FD Gravitas decided it was time to stop witnessing these kidnappings in such a passive manner and take action to awaken civil solidarity toward all those kidnapped by the insurgents.
FD Gravitas quickly developed a public awareness campaign and got the support of Colombia’s major media outlets. With consent from Betancourt’s family and the support of local ad agency, SILVA Publicidad, FD Gravitas created a poster that contained the complete text of the letter and invited all Colombians to unite against kidnapping.
Additionally, FD Gravitas asked all national and regional media outlets to publish the ad featuring Betancourt’s letter for free on December 7, 2007. On this day, Colombians traditionally celebrate the “night of candles” and officially welcome Christmas by lighting candles and lanterns outside of their homes. However, on this day in 2007, FD asked Colombians to light their candles to honor and remember not only Betancourt, but also the hundreds of others who were kidnapped and held hostage by political insurgents. The act displayed solidarity among Colombians in asking the FARC to release their hostages and to stop the fighting.
In this manner, FD Gravitas fueled a large campaign in support of Colombians to cease indifference to the plight of hostages of political conflict and actively protest for the release of the thousands missing.
The response to the campaign was tremendous. During the first week of December, Betancourt’s ad-letter was published in more than 19 newspapers and magazines, and Colombia’s major TV and radio stations invited all Colombians to display the letter as an act to speak out against kidnapping and call for the release of hostages. More than 2,000 flyers were distributed for display in the windows of offices and homes.
Private companies also joined the cause by donating thousands of flyers that were distributed through the streets. Additionally, a national radio program dedicated solely to sending messages from family members to kidnapped Colombians called Voces del Secuestro (Voices of Kidnapping) served as a powerful part of the campaign to tell all those suffering this plight that Colombia had not forgotten them. Listening to radio is the only “privilege” hostages obtain from the insurgents and is therefore their sole contact to the outside world.
FD Gravitas’ campaign began an impressive year for Colombia marked by outrage and action against the FARC. Millions took to the streets and placed a large amount of pressure toward the FARC, who were suddenly faced with an enormous and united public display of rejection to decades of suffering imparted to Colombians. People started calling for peaceful protests through Facebook, asking the FARC to release their hostages and to stop the fighting. The response was massive.
This civil awakening was aided also by successful military campaigns against the FARC, where the most important was a spectacular rescue operation that resulted in the liberation of Betancourt and other 11 hostages. Among these hostages, three Americans and several members of the Armed Forces were rescued in the operation.
Beyond the rescue of the hostages, FD Gravitas’ campaign made a positive, lasting impact on a greater scale. The campaign helped awaken Colombians from their indifference and begin a series of massive protests, asking the FARC to release the victims, stop kidnapping and their terrorist tactics.
The campaign educated Colombians to better understand that they are players in both forcing the FARC to liberate hostages and helping the Armed Forces gather momentum that resulted in the heroic rescue of Betancourt and the 11 others. Additionally, the families and friends of those kidnapped finally felt somebody was listening to their endless suffering and the FARC began a series of liberations.