On a fateful day in February 2002, campaign manager Clara Rojas accompanied longtime friend and presidential hopeful Ingrid Betancourt into an area controlled by the powerful leftist guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). Armed with machine guns and grenades, the FARC took them hostage and kept them in the jungle for the next six years.
After more than two years of captivity deep in the Colombian jungle, surrounded by jaguars, snakes, and tarantulas, miles from any town or hospital, Clara Rojas prepared to give birth in a muddy tent surrounded by heavily armed guerrillas. Her captors promised that a doctor would be brought to the camp to help her. But when Rojas went into labor and began to suffer complications, the only person on hand was a guerrilla wielding a kitchen knife. The guerrillas drugged Rojas with anesthetic while one of them slit open her abdomen. Her son, Emmanuel, was born by amateur cesarean section in April 2004. His survival was miraculous, but her joy was soon cut short when the FARC took him from her when he was only eight months old. For the next three years, Clara was given no information about him, but her desire to one day see him again kept her alive. In early 2008, Clara was finally liberated and reunited with her son—to whom this book is dedicated.
It’s been almost six months now that I have been free, and it still feels like it’s all a dream. Early each morning, I awake to the sound of birds chirping all around me. I live in Bogotá’s savanna, where the air is crisp and I can take in the mountain scenery from my window. There isn’t a morning that goes by that I don’t thank God I’m still alive. It’s the first thing I do upon opening my eyes. Yes, to thank the blessing that’s reunited me with my mother, with my son, Emmanuel, with my family and friends, and with all those who I love most. I am grateful to finally be able to leave it all behind. The kidnapping, the captivity—that’s all in the past. Now that my life is back to normal, with the affection and company of my loved ones, it’s strange to recall that not so long ago, when I was rotting away in the jungle, I could have felt so alone. So utterly forgotten.
Many have asked if I’ve changed since the kidnapping; if I’m still the same Clara that I always was. I tell them yes, that for the most part, I’m still the same person—but with a scar on my stomach now, and a profound mark made on the way I think and feel about things, which I can only hope will fade with time. Sometimes I’m assaulted by feelings of sadness, but, luckily, I have Emmanuel at my side for comfort. As is expected, I would have preferred that the Colombian guerrilla organization known as the FARC hadn’t robbed me of six years of my life. But I’m alive and here to tell the tale. Each person will recount what the war was like from his or her perspective. I’m just another soldier. And this is my story.
These words come from the depths of my heart, and I write this for many reasons. First, I’ve always dreamed of writing a book. I’ve written various academic and professional works, but this is a chance to bare my soul in the world of letters, a field that I’ve always adored. I’m also inspired to write a memoir so that it remains for my son and those of his generation. Because I long to be part of a country that prioritizes reconciliation, forgiveness, tolerance, growth, and peace. Lastly, I want to share my experience with readers and have them understand the difficulties I suffered and overcame, so that perhaps while reading this book, a seed of hope and longing will be planted in their hearts.
Clara Rojas is a lawyer and was the campaign director of Ingrid Betancourt’s presidential campaign when they were kidnapped by the FARC in 2002. She gave birth to her son Emmanuel during her captivity but he was taken from her when he was only eight months old. After six years of captivity she was finally liberated. Clara and her son currently live in Bogotá, Colombia.
Adriana V. López is the founding editor of Críticas, Publishers Weekly's sister magazine devoted to the Spanish-language publishing world. She is the co-editor of Barcelona Noir, a short story collection for Akashic Books, as well as the editor of Fifteen Candles: 15 Tales of Taffeta, Hairspray, Drunk Uncles and Other Quinceañera Stories (HarperCollins, 2007). Lopez's work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post, among other publications and book anthologies. Her essays and fiction have appeared in Juicy Mangoes (Simon & Schuster, 2007), Border-Line Personalities: A New Generation of Latinas Dish on Sex, Sass & Cultural Shifting (HarperCollins, 2004), and Colonize This! Young Women of Color on Today's Feminism (Seal Press, 2002). López is a member of PEN America and currently divides her time between New York and Madrid.