Sunday, July 06, 2008

Betancourt's release - it's not all good news


So after six years in jungle captivity, Ingrid Betancourt is finally released. Certainly, one can only share the joy of her release, the relief of a painless rescue and the ecstasy of a family re-united.

But there's also case for some regret. One of Betancourt's first acts on release is to fly to France and express her appreciation for the support of the French people, particularly the President, Nicolas Sarkosy. 'I owe my life to France', she says.

It seems a strange statement for her to make. France apparently had no role in the rescue operation. It was the Colombians who risked their lives for her.

The immediate flight to France, where she has begun to give details of the horrors of the Colombian jungle, can only confirm the belief in most first world counties of the lawlessness and barbarity of the South.

There are many references in the story of her rescue to a Hollywood script. It's as though she was saved not by real soldiers but by Stephen Spielberg. The way the story has been told is testimony to the cultural hegemony of the West, and the fantasy of world redemption that is enacted in US action films.

So, despite the joy of Betancourt's reunion with family and friends, I feel a twinge of regret that this episode only confirms the hierarchy of North and South - the powerful, civilised force of the North, pitted against the disorganised, barbaric forces of the South.

It reaffirms the aspirational perspective of the South, where the lucky few who are able to escape are lauded as great national heroes.

None of this counters the pleasure in Betancourt's release. I just wish she would have stayed in Colombia.

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