By Phil Hall | February 17, 2003

“Missing Peace” is a documentary which should be seen by every person who values the concepts of liberty and democracy. This extraordinary feature from Victoria Bruce and Karin Hayes details the most outrageous assault to democracy in recent years. No, not the 2000 U.S. presidential election’s Florida wind-up, but the February 2002 kidnapping of Ingrid Betancourt, a reformist candidate running for president of Colombia.
The daughter of a diplomat and a beauty queen contest winner, Ingrid Betancourt seemed like the unlikeliest person to take on the deep political corruption of Colombia. Risking the safety of herself and her family, Betancourt spent much of the 1990s as a Congresswoman and Senator seeking to expose the links between her nation’s governing elite and the drug cartels who turned Colombia into the world’s leading narcotics wholesaler. While the film is vague in detailing what accomplishments Betancourt actually achieved (President Ernesto Samper, whom Betancourt unveiled as being linked to the cartels, remained in power), her courage and personality captivated Colombians seeking honesty from their elected leaders. Her decision to run for president on the Oxygen Green Party was centered under the playful slogan that she would provide “viagra for Colombia”–giving the country a lift, so to speak.
Complicating matters for that country, however, is the reign of terror brought about by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (known by the Spanish acronym FARC), which has been waging a civil war that is nearing its fourth decade of conflict. FARC’s guerrillas use kidnappings as a means to terrorize and blackmail the country, and the extensiveness of the kidnappings is so commonplace that many Colombians have come to accept this as a typical way of life. On February 4, Betancourt and other presidential candidates met with FARC leaders in a highly-publicized summit as a means of trying to bring peace to the country. Nine days later, on a deserted road in rebel-controlled territory, FARC terrorists kidnapped Betancourt and her aide Clara Rojas.
“Missing Peace” details how Betancourt’s husband Juan Carlos and her mother Yolanda carried on the presidential campaign in Ingrid’s absence. The fact this was the first time in the history of the world that a presidential candidate was kidnapped is an absurdity compounded by the seeming lack of outrage on the part of the Colombian media, government or population. Juan Carlos, an advertising executive who didn’t even bother voting before marrying Ingrid, carries on in her absence by using a giant cardboard cutout to signify her absence.
Films about political campaigns are almost always fascinating, but “Missing Peace” is more compelling by the utter lack of cynicism in the Betancourt effort. The presidential campaign shown here evolves into a human rights campaign, with the fate of one very special person as the symbol of a country which is literally being held hostage. The campaign also questions the humanity of the Colombia government and its people, who respond to the Betancourt abduction with cynicism. One journalist interviewed here dryly observes: “She took her own risks and she’s paying for that now.” If any special effort was made to by the Colombian government or military to liberate Betancourt, it is not obvious here.
The toll on Betancourt’s family is terrible: her ill father abruptly passes away, her husband develops severe insomnia that can only be relieved with sleeping pills, and her children from an earlier marriage (who were sent to live with their father, a Frenchman residing in New Zealand), are literally ping-ponged across the globe without any notion of whether their mother will be returned alive. Yet the dignity and intelligence in which they continue Ingrid’s campaign is compelling and inspiring; at no time to they break down into animosity against Ingrid’s captors or their ineffective leadership or even the uncaring country. Furthermore, the Betancourt family insisted that equal consideration be given to Clara Rojas and her family’s emotional heartache. Rojas was named as the vice presidential candidate for Betancourt’s party.
Filmmakers Victoria Bruce and Karin Hayes, collaborating on their first feature-length documentary, have fashioned a work of great maturity and sensitivity. While clearly creating this film under the most difficult emotional circumstances possible, “Missing Peace” emerges as both a celebration of the human spirit in the midst of a blistering condemnation of the Colombian nation. Yet the filmmakers do not need to resort to overt slogans or sneers to criticize Colombia. By focusing their lenses on the country and its people, the power of the documentary medium allows them to capture this strange and violent place where apathy is the neighbor of daily terrorism. This may seem natural for Colombians, but for non-Colombians who are unaware of what is going on in that country (the Betancourt kidnapping was barely noted in the U.S. media), this film will come as a shock.
If the film has a fault, however, it is the conspicuous absence of mentioning the seemingly endless level of American financial and military aid which has kept the corrupt Colombian governments propped up for years. American troops have been a not-very-secret presence in Colombia for too long, and their crushing lack of success in bringing stability (let alone a defeat of FARC rebels) has gone unacknowledged for a long time. The film never records Betancourt’s views on the United States and its role in Colombia, which is a significant gap.
In case you are wondering how this transpired, Betancourt came in fifth out of a field of 11 presidential candidates. While her political party remained solvent in receiving more than 50,000 votes, Betancourt and Rojas remained unheard from until FARC released a video of the women in July 2002. The video, shot two months earlier, has been the last confirmation that the women were still alive. Until Ingrid Betancourt and Clara Rojas are released, “Missing Peace” should remain in circulation and in front of as many audiences as humanly possible. When free people lose their outrage at the depth and scope of the crimes detailed in this film, then perhaps it is time for humanity to slit its wrists and give the planet to a species that has more respect and value for life.

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