San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

French Ambassador Talks Politics – and Amour

The new French ambassador to Costa Rica, Fabrice Delloye, is learning to talk like a diplomat again.

For the past four years, Delloye waged a sometimes acerbic campaign to raise awareness about his ex-wife, Ingrid Betancourt, a former Colombian presidential candidate who was held hostage by leftist rebels for more than six years.

Delloye, 57, was married to Betancourt from 1981 to 1990 and is the father of her two children, Melanie, 23, and Lorenzo, 20.

A career diplomat, Delloye most recently worked as a commercial attaché in the Dominican Republic and Ecuador. He left diplomacy in 2004 to raise support for Betancourt, who was rescued in July from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

In a conversation in Spanish with The Tico Times, Fabrice Delloye discussed his romance with Betancourt, his differences with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, and his excitement about U.S. President-elect Barack Obama.

TT: How did you meet and fall in love with Ingrid Betancourt?

FD: I was living in Paris as a single father. One Sunday in early January of 1980, I was in a café with my 5-year-old son, Sebastien, who had on a Zorro costume.

Three very pretty girls entered – Ingrid and two friends – and they sat at the table next to us.

Sebastien started to talk to them, and I joined in. Ingrid spoke French without any accent. I said I needed a babysitter for the following Wednesday because I had to go to a dinner out of the country.

So it started like that. Ingrid was my babysitter, then she was my girlfriend, then she was my companion. The whole world interested her – politics, culture. She had an exceptional mindset for someone just 18 years old. It has been an interesting time. Of course, we have had our difficulties, like all couples.

How did you lobby for her release from FARC?

I left my job as a diplomat in March 2004 and did not work for four years. I needed to be able to speak freely, to criticize people I could not criticize as a diplomat. I also needed time.

It was a daily fight. The first thing we sought to do was alert the French public that Ingrid was French. (Betancourt, a Colombian by birth, became a citizen through her marriage to Delloye.) Then we had to spread word about the problem of hostages in Colombia. Very few people knew about this outrage – that there had been thousands of kidnappings. Few people even knew where Colombia was on a map, that the capital was Bogota, and that the president was named Alvaro Uribe.

My children and I spoke to the media – to CNN, Univision, European radio and television channels, the principal newspapers.

I went to Ecuador, Venezuela, Colombia, Panama, the Dominican Republic, Canada, the United States, Germany, Spain, Italy, Switzerland, Ireland, Belgium, Brazil. I met with support groups and politicians.

Why did you invest so much in this fight?

Because she is the mother of my children. Because I care about her. It was my moral responsibility to do everything I could to save her. If I had not, I would not be able to look at myself in the mirror.

What was the hardest moment?

The first year, there was a video. The second year, there was another video. But during the next four years – from August 2003 to November 2007 – there was no news of her. Not one photograph. Not one message. Not one video. In 2004, there were rumors that she had died. It was very, very hard.

Before Ingrid’s release, you told the press that President Uribe’s attitude was “disgusting” and “ignoble” and that he “consistently sabotaged” any chance of securing the hostages’ release. You criticized his military maneuvers and pushed for greater efforts at negotiation with FARC. What were Uribe’s biggest mistakes?

I am not going to talk about Uribe’s mistakes. He is a very intelligent man. He knows well how to play chess, and he is always two moves ahead of everyone else. I wasn’t in his shoes. I was fighting for the life of Ingrid and other victims, while President Uribe was responsible for 45 million Colombians. We did not have the same perspective or responsibilities. My family and I wanted Uribe to open a dialogue with FARC. We still do.

But I want to salute President Uribe for carrying out, together with the Colombian military, the most beautiful operation (in freeing Ingrid and 14 other hostages). Can you imagine the courage of these soldiers who entered the FARC camp with no weapons?

What do you think of Barack Obama’s election as U.S. president?

For the French public, it was really incredible. I think 80 percent of French people wanted Obama to win. (The true figure, according to a Gallup survey, was 64 percent.) It sends a message to the world that any minority can ascend to power.

How will relations between France and the U.S. change under an Obama presidency?

You know we have had a somewhat icy relationship because we did not agree on President Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.

We have always seen this as a mistake, not only for the United States but for the whole world. But today we don’t want to dwell on the past. We want to look for solutions to withdraw U.S. troops from Iraq in an orderly and gradual way.

We are nearly convinced that Obama will work hard to define a calendar for withdrawal. What’s more worrisome, of course, is the fight against terrorism, the fight against al-Qaida, the fight against the extremists.

What’s worrisome today is the situation in Afghanistan, the border with Pakistan, the resurgence of the Taliban. France’s position, together with its allies, to maintain an international presence in Afghanistan is crucial to regional peace.


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