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Colombia vote: Former FARC hostages run for Congress

Six former FARC hostages – each held for years by the leftist rebel group – are running for Congress in Sunday's Colombia vote. Voters are choosing 102 senators and 166 representatives in the legislative elections.

By Sibylla BrodzinskyCorrespondent / March 14, 2010

Colombian candidate to Senate and former FARC hostage, Clara Rojas, next to her son Emmanuel, arrives to cast her vote in Bogota, Colombia.

Carlos Duran/Newscom

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Bogotá, Colombia

After spending long years chained to trees and at the mercy of leftist rebels, most of Colombia’s former FARC hostages swore off politics when they were unilaterally released two years ago, saying they would dedicate themselves to their families and to making up for lost time.

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But six of the former political hostages of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, have plunged back into politics, seeking seats in Congress in Sunday’s legislative elections. Some of the former hostages say they feel better prepared to represent voters after their experience with the “other Colombia.” Others say they’re just trying to pick up their lives where they left off.

Clara Rojas, who was campaign manager of then-presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt when the two were kidnapped in 2002, says she decided to run for a Senate seat in part to put the trauma of her kidnapping behind her. “I wanted to leave behind the role of victim, and to see what I can do to contribute to the country,” she says.

Where is Ingrid Betancourt?

Absent from the current race is Ms. Betancourt herself who many had speculated would make her political comeback in this year’s elections after being rescued along with 14 other hostages in a military intelligence operation in 2008. She is reportedly living between New York and Paris, writing a book about her ordeals.

Colombia, which remains mired in a four-decade-old conflict, will elect 102 senators and 166 representatives Sunday in an election that will also serve as a key test of political forces ahead of May presidential elections.

President Álvaro Uribe was barred from trying to seek a third term, leaving the presidential race wide open with six different candidates standing for the first round. The Conservative Party and Green Party candidates will be defined Sunday in open primaries.

Politics is an inherently dangerous business in Colombia and though election observers said the risk of election violence has dropped, the FARC and paramilitary groups still pose a latent threat in nearly 40 percent of the country.

Safer, but still dicey

In February, five people died when the FARC apparently tried to kidnap a gubernatorial candidate far-flung Guaviare province. And the Army last weekend said it had foiled a bomb attack on Orlando Beltrán, a former FARC hostage who is seeking to reclaim his seat in House of Representatives as an independent. “I’ve just emerged from seven years of torture in the jungles of Colombia and now they want to kill me,” he told local radio.

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