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Until Death Do Us Part: My Struggle to Reclaim Colombia

Until Death Do Us Part: My Struggle to Reclaim Colombia

by Ingrid Betancourt

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Ingrid Betancourt, a senator and a presidential candidate in Colombia, grew up among diplomats, literati, and artists who congregated at her parents' elegant home in Paris, France. Her father served as Colombia's ambassador to UNESCO and her mother, a political activist, continued her work on behalf of the country's countless children whose lives were being


Ingrid Betancourt, a senator and a presidential candidate in Colombia, grew up among diplomats, literati, and artists who congregated at her parents' elegant home in Paris, France. Her father served as Colombia's ambassador to UNESCO and her mother, a political activist, continued her work on behalf of the country's countless children whose lives were being destroyed by extreme poverty and institutional neglect. Intellectually, Ingrid was influenced by Pablo Neruda and other Latin American writers like Gabriel García Márquez, who frequented her parents' social circle. She studied at École de Sciences Politiques de Paris, a prestigious academy in France.

From this charmed life, Ingrid Betancourt -- not yet thirty, happily married to a French diplomat, and a mother of two children -- returned to her native country in the late 1980s. On what was initially just a visit, she found her country under internal siege from the drug cartels and the corrupt government that had allowed them to flourish. After seeing what had become of Colombia's democracy, she didn't feel she could leave.

Until Death Do Us Part is the deeply personal story of a woman who gave up a life of comfort and safety to become a political leader in a country being slowly demolished by terrorism, violence, fear, and a pervasive sense of hopelessness. It is a country where democracy has been sacrificed for the well-being of the few, where international criminals determine policy, and where political assassinations are a way of life. Now forty, Ingrid Betancourt has been elected and reelected as a representative and as a senator in Colombia's national legislature. She has founded a political party that has openly confronted Colombia's leaders and has earned the respect of a nation. And now she has become a target of the establishment and the drug cartels behind it.

Forced to move her children out of Colombia for protection against death threats, Ingrid Betancourt remained and continued to fight the political structure that has crumbled under the destructive power of the paramilitary forces, the financial omnipotence of the drug cartels, and the passivity of governmentfor-sale. Here is a political cocktail that has destroyed countless lives in Colombia and has spread to countries beyond its borders.

A memoir of a life in politics that reads like a fastpaced political thriller, Until Death Do Us Part -- already an international bestseller -- is a hair-raising account of one woman's fight against the establishment. It is a story of a woman whose love for her country and faith in democracy gave her the courage to stand up to the power that has subjugated, intimidated, or corrupted all those who opposed it. A chilling account of the dangerous, byzantine machine that runs Colombia, it is also an inspiring story of privilege, sacrifice, and true patriotism.

Editorial Reviews

Ingrid Betancourt is a senator in Colombia's national legislature and a candidate for president. After growing up comfortably in Paris, she was appalled to find her beloved Colombia under siege from vicious drug cartels when she returned home in the late 1980s. She became determined to do something about it, to restore Colombia to the democratic ideals she devoutly believed in. But the cartels have made her a target. Will she be able to make a difference?
Colombian presidential candidate Betancourt promises to rid her native country of its rampant drug-funded corruption. In Colombia, one of the most dangerous political environments in the world, such a pledge can get you killed. But Betancourt has been living with that horrible threat for some time now. A pampered young woman who spent years in Paris with her diplomat parents, she has devoted her adulthood—and sacrificed a safe, stable life with her two children—to face down Colombia's deeply ingrained criminal culture. She first ran for legislative office in Bogotáas an unknown but won the seat with an ingenious campaign gimmick—she handed out condoms to symbolize her battle against the "disease" of corruption. In office, she undertook a highly publicized hunger strike to protest the illicit connections of the recent president, Ernesto Samper. Betancourt's memoir could make for a crackling novel of political intrigue. "My relationship with death is like that of a tightrope walker," she concludes. "We're both doing something dangerous, and we've calculated the risks, but our love of perfection invariably overcomes our fear."
—James Sullivan

Publishers Weekly
In a memoir that sometimes conveys the excitement of a Clancy thriller, Betancourt recounts her remarkable life, from the Paris of her childhood (her father was Colombia's minister of education and ambassador to UNESCO) to present-day Colombia, where she has served as a senator in Bogot and where she plans to launch her 2002 presidential campaign. That is, if she isn't assassinated first. Betancourt announces early on that she is no ordinary politician and that her reminiscences will comprise no ordinary political memoir. But what constitutes exceptional in Colombia, a country awash in political corruption and controlled by a government that is under the thumb of organized crime and vulnerable to the financial lure of illegal drug trafficking? Well, for starters, Betancourt spent her first campaign, for a seat in the House of Representatives, standing along the city's busiest streets, handing out condoms ("[O]ur poster: my photo alongside a picture of a condom, with this slogan: `The best to protect us against corruption.' " She scandalized her parents, her friends, her country, but won her seat in the House. So began Betancourt's campaign against electoral fraud and narcopoliticians, which, despite the death threats and the pressure exerted on her family, continues to this day and which won't end, as her title implies, until she wins or is killed for her efforts. Betancourt's memoir is intelligently written, if occasionally sentimental, and she passionately and clearly describes the consequences of corruption and the dangers of combating it. (Jan.) Forecast: This was a bestseller in France and Colombia. It may not reach that status here, but Betancourt's attractive face on the cover will lead people to pick it up, and her fast-paced story will keep them reading. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
A manifesto from the woman running for Colombia's presidency. Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
A courageous Colombian senator, member of a politically active family, charts her course through the dangerous political waters of her troubled country.

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Until Death Do Us Part
My Struggle to Reclaim Colombia

Chapter One

The children are eating their snack in the kitchen. We hear them laughing. In the adjoining room, I tell Juan Carlos what the man said. His words are precisely engraved on my memory, right down to their rhythm and intonation. In the meantime, they've taken on a terrifying, permanent, unforgettable meaning.

"We have to get the children out of here, Ingrid. Immediately."


"Call their father in New Zealand and tell him we're bringing them on the first plane we can get."

Juan Carlos says out loud what I already know, what I decided during the interminable trip from the Capitol to the French school. He can't imagine how much it helps me to hear him express what is for me the worst possible horror: they have to leave. They have to leave for a long time, I know it—for years, maybe. To save their lives, I have to make them leave. Juan Carlos says what has to be done, but with his eyes he silently tells me he'll be there to help me bear this unheard-of burden: their absence, the void, the gulf on the edge of which we'll have to live from now on. That he'll be there.

Not for a second does he suggest that I abandon my battle against government corruption. For the time being, this amounts to hardly more than a handful of sand thrown into the monstrous gears of a machine that has ground up the few heedless people who have challenged it. I think of my mother's close friend, Luis Carlos Galán, who was a candidate for the presidency of Colombia and was assassinated at the beginning of an electoral meeting in 1989. He was forty-six years old, and mymother was at his bedside when he died. I wanted to take up the torch, and Colombians heard me when they elected me to the legislature in 1994 with more votes than any other candidate in the Liberal Party, Galán's party. I'll go all the way for the Colombian people, whom our political class has despised and robbed, generation after generation. I won't give up, whatever price has to be paid. This evening, I'm grateful to Juan Carlos for not doubting my resolve, not challenging this commitment.

Fabrice, the father of my children, is French, a diplomat currently posted in Auckland. We separated in 1990, and Colombia played a large part in our separation. But once the effects of the split had dissipated, a strong, special friendship formed between us, and we have recovered the esteem we had for each other.

"Did something happen? Were they threatened?"

"Threatened, yes. Nothing more. They're fine, they're right here, don't worry, but I can't wait—they have to leave."

"For good, you mean?"

"For a long time. I can't explain everything here on the phone. I need your help."

"All right. Come on the first plane you can get . . . Ingrid? Are you going to be all right? You're not all alone?"

"Juan Carlos is here, he'll be traveling with us."

Now I have to speak to the children, while Juan Carlos finds us seats on an international flight. It doesn't matter where it's going, just as long as we get out of Colombia. We'll find a way to get to Auckland later.

"Melanie, Loli, listen to me, I've got something important to tell you. We're going to spend Christmas in Auckland."

"With Papa?"

"Yes, that's right."


"Yes, my darling, it's great. But we've got to leave sooner than planned."

"Before school is out?"

"Tomorrow morning, in fact."

"We can't do that! We left all our stuff."

"We'll notify the school, Melanie, don't worry."

"So we're leaving just like that, without saying goodbye or anything? Why?"

"That's how it is, dear, I can't explain everything. We'll talk about it later if you want to, okay? Accept the situation as it is. It's a little rushed, I know, but it's good nonetheless, isn't it?"

"Yes, but . . ."

"And as far as your show's concerned, Loli, don't worry, I'll call. Okay, now let's get our bags packed."

It's done. We have four seats for Los Angeles tomorrow morning.

That night, Juan Carlos and I hardly sleep. We leave the light on, we listen for any unusual sound. For the first time, I have an imminent fear for my life, and that of my family's, as my visitor's message resounds in my mind. Over the past year, while the case against the president of Colombia, Ernesto Samper, was being prepared, I was feeling very much alone, fighting to bring it to its conclusion, to make public the proof of his guilt. Between August 1995 and March 1996, four witnesses for the prosecution were killed, one after another.* I kept the newspapers with the police photos of those dark, closed faces. I'd met some of these witnesses, and I'm still haunted by their deaths. I want to bear testimony for them, too.

Though I'm usually confident in my strength, I feel fragile during these long hours, incredibly vulnerable, because this time I'm not the only one in the line of fire. The dreadful shadow that hangs over my children saps my resources, eats away at my heart.

I'm angry with myself for having chosen this apartment house at the foot of the mountain, at the end of a cul-de-sac. It's an ideal spot for an ambush: there's no way out. Not long ago a girl was kidnapped here, apparently without the slightest difficulty. To make things worse, my apartment is on the top floor, and thus accessible from the roof.

Auckland is a paradise compared with the black chaos of Bogotá. For a long time Auckland was a British possession, and the city is full of cottages surrounded by lawns. For us Colombians, who are constantly being pushed around and bowled over by the silent war that has been waged in our capital for decades, it's impossible to believe that a place like this exists, though we know it does.

Until Death Do Us Part
My Struggle to Reclaim Colombia
. Copyright © by Ingrid Betancourt. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.

Meet the Author

Ingrid Betancourt was rescued from captivity on July 2, 2008.

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