'Even Silence Has an End': From Candidate to Rebel Captive

Hector Tobar
Los Angeles Times (MCT)
Ingrid Betancourt

This is an unforgettable epic of moral courage and human endurance.

Even Silence Has an End: My Six Years of Captivity in the Colombian Jungle

Publisher: Penguin
Length: 544 pages
Author: Ingrid Betancourt
Price: $29.95
Format: Hardcover
Publication date: 2010-09

Through the bars of a cage built in the jungle, Ingrid Betancourt watched her kidnappers dig a nine-foot-deep pit. She believed it would be her grave.

Instead, Betancourt was tossed inside, very much alive. Her laughing captors, members of the leftist Colombian guerrilla group known as the FARC, then placed bets on whether the 42-year-old mother of two would have the strength and moxie to find a way out.

That story, like so many in Even Silence Has an End, Betancourt's riveting account of her six years in FARC captivity, ends with a strange and poignant twist. Betancourt emerges from the rebel camp's new cesspool laughing and triumphant, and wins the respect of a group of female guerrillas. Those teenage girls, armed with submachine guns, later join her in making Christmas decorations, including a nativity scene she fashions from the clay mud of the pit.

"We had somehow become a family, and as is the case with real families, we hadn't chosen each other," Betancourt writes of herself, her captors and her fellow hostages. Later, the male guerrilla leaders who dominated that "family" would subject Betancourt to increasingly cruel acts of degradation, including two years bound in heavy chains.

Born in a privileged Colombian family and raised in France, Betancourt was the presidential candidate of a small, anti-corruption, pro-environment Colombian political party when she was kidnapped in 2002. She had boldly — or foolishly, some would say — decided to bring her campaign to FARC-controlled territory. Even Silence Has an End is an unforgettable epic of moral courage and human endurance.

Betancourt the candidate had fashioned herself as the conscience of Colombia's political class. As a hostage she was no different, pestering a series of rebel commanders and guards as they marched her from one rebel camp in the jungle to the next. "Human rights," one guerrilla spits back at her, "are a bourgeois concept."

Even Silence Has an End is remarkable for its mastery of several classic narrative forms. For starters, it's a tense, psychologically taut prison memoir. Then it becomes a woman-centered critique of Colombia's culture of political violence, as Betancourt is forced to observe, at close quarters, the demented, cocaine-funded movement the FARC has become.

Female guerrillas tell her sorrowful tales of forced "romances" with FARC leaders. The commanders speak of their humble beginnings in Colombian slums — and then boast of a mythical cave where the FARC is said to have hidden millions of dollars in drug profits.

But Even Silence Has an End is also an adventure story as Betancourt repeatedly attempts to escape through the Amazonian rain forest. Sometimes alone, and sometimes with fellow captives, she enters a "labyrinth of chlorophyll" where monkeys migrate on the treetops and red-eyed crocodiles swim in the rivers. The drama of these desperate treks for freedom rivals anything in that other great memoir written by a survivor of a South American tropical prison, Papillon, Henry Charriere's tale of his escape from Devil's Island.

Through it all Betancourt never fails to marvel in the weird beauty of the landscape that surrounds her. She leaves her wet boots to dry in the sun, and they're covered by a swarm of bees that leave them smelling like honey. When she tries the same thing with her underwear, ants devour and carry all the fabric away, one tiny piece of cotton at a time.

But more than anything, Even Silence Has an End is an account of one woman's struggle to avoid the "hibernation of my soul" as the prisoner of men who openly despised her. Against all odds, Betancourt leaves the jungle with the same principles with which she entered it: above all, a deep belief in compassion and human justice.

"Having lost my freedom and, with it, everything that mattered to me... I still had the most important freedom of all," she writes. "That was the freedom to choose the kind of person I wanted to be."

Were it not for the continuing controversy surrounding its author, Even Silence Has an End would likely be celebrated as one of the greatest Latin American memoirs ever written, a distinction it thoroughly deserves.

This July, however, two years after her rescue by the Colombian army — in an operation recounted breathlessly at the end of her book — Betancourt announced she would seek millions in compensation and damages from the Colombian government for failing to protect her during her 2002 presidential campaign.

Betancourt did that because holding the government accountable is the right thing to do. But to most Colombians this looked like a greedy and ungrateful act, and it effectively ended her political career.

Being stubborn and frank made Betancourt a resilient hostage and compelling witness to her own ordeal. Those same qualities, unfortunately, also make her a lousy politician.






Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" Is an Ode for Unity in Troubling Times (premiere)

Alright Alright's "Don't Worry" is a gentle, prayerful tune that depicts the heart of their upcoming album, Crucible.


Tim Bowness of No-Man Discusses Thematic Ambition Amongst Social Division

With the release of his seventh solo album, Late Night Laments, Tim Bowness explores global tensions and considers how musicians can best foster mutual understanding in times of social unrest.


Angel Olsen Creates a 'Whole New Mess'

No one would call Angel Olsen's Whole New Mess a pretty album. It's much too stark. But there's something riveting about the way Olsen coos to herself that's soft and comforting.


Masma Dream World Go Global and Trippy on "Sundown Forest" (premiere)

Dancer, healer, musician Devi Mambouka shares the trippy "Sundown Forest", which takes listeners deep into the subconscious and onto a healing path.


'What a Fantastic Death Abyss': David Bowie's 'Outside' at 25

David Bowie's Outside signaled the end of him as a slick pop star and his reintroduction as a ragged-edged arty agitator.


Dream Folk's Wolf & Moon Awaken the Senses with "Eyes Closed" (premiere)

Berlin's Wolf & Moon are an indie folk duo with a dream pop streak. "Eyes Closed" highlights this aspect as the act create a deep sense of atmosphere and mood with the most minimal of tools.


Ranking the Seasons of 'The Wire'

Years after its conclusion, The Wire continues to top best-of-TV lists. With each season's unique story arc, each viewer is likely to have favorites.


Paul Reni's Silent Film 'The Man Who Laughs' Is Serious Cinema

There's so much tragedy present, so many skullduggeries afoot, and so many cruel and vindictive characters in attendance that a sad and heartbreaking ending seems to be an obvious given in Paul Reni's silent film, The Man Who Laughs.


The Grahams Tell Their Daughter "Don't Give Your Heart Away" (premiere)

The Grahams' sweet-sounding "Don't Give Your Heart Away" is rooted in struggle, inspired by the couples' complicated journey leading up to their daughter's birth.


Gloom Balloon Deliver an Uplifting Video for "All My Feelings For You" (premiere)

Gloom Balloon's Patrick Tape Fleming considers what making a music video during a pandemic might involve because, well, he made one. Could Fellini come up with this plot twist?


What 'O Brother, Where Art Thou?' Gets Right (and Wrong) About America

Telling the tale of the cyclops through the lens of high and low culture, in O'Brother, Where Art Thou? the Coens hammer home a fatalistic criticism about the ways that commerce, violence, and cosmetic Christianity prevail in American society .


Brian Cullman Gets Bluesy with "Someday Miss You" (premiere)

Brian Cullman's "Someday Miss You" taps into American roots music, carries it across the Atlantic and back for a sound that is both of the past and present.


IDLES Have Some Words for Fans and Critics on 'Ultra Mono'

On their new album, Ultra Mono, IDLES tackle both the troubling world around them and the dissenters that want to bring them down.


Napalm Death Return With Their Most Vital Album in Decades

Grindcore institution Napalm Death finally reconcile their experimental side with their ultra-harsh roots on Throes of Joy in the Jaws of Defeatism.


NYFF: 'Notturno' Looks Passively at the Chaos in the Middle East

Gianfranco Rosi's expansive documentary, Notturno, is far too remote for its burningly immediate subject matter.


The Avett Brothers Go Back-to-Basics with 'The Third Gleam'

For their latest EP, The Third Gleam, the Avett Brothers leave everything behind but their songs and a couple of acoustic guitars, a bass, and a banjo.


PM Picks Playlist 1: Rett Madison, Folk Devils + More

The first PopMatters Picks Playlist column features searing Americana from Rett Madison, synthpop from Everything and Everybody, the stunning electropop of Jodie Nicholson, the return of post-punk's Folk Devils, and the glammy pop of Baby FuzZ.


David Lazar's 'Celeste Holm  Syndrome' Appreciates Hollywood's Unsung Character Actors

David Lazar's Celeste Holm Syndrome documents how character actor work is about scene-defining, not scene-stealing.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.