Viva Colombia!

My wife Jean has a crush on Anderson Cooper, so much so that in our house we regularly refer to the CNN anchor/reporter as “mom’s boyfriend.” Her Andersonphilia reached stalker-level proportions recently when CNN provided coverage of the rescue of one-time Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped and imprisoned by the rebel group FARC in the Colombian jungle for the past six years.

Despite the fact that that Colombia is but a blip on the radar for most North Americans, the story was covered thoroughly and dramatically by CNN — due, undoubtedly, in no small part to the squeaky-wheeling of Cooper, who visited the Colombia capital of Bogotá this year and embraced the country and its people.

Which is what happened to us when we adopted our kids, Henry and Helen, from Colombia in the mid-’90s. South Minneapolis is, in fact, home to the highest number of international adoptees in Minnesota, and I’ve always sensed that Jean and her fellow adoptive moms have been joined at the heart with their kids’ birth countries in a way that goes beyond motherhood, and verges on some sort of mystical pluralism, if not outright evangelism.

As such, we’ve spent the last decade-plus getting beyond Colombia’s most renowned exports (cocaine and coffee) to tell the kids about the country’s rich heritage, citing heroes such as novelist Gabriel Garcia-Marquez; painter Fernando Botero; major league baseball player Edgar Renteria; pop siren Shakira; and actress Catalina Sandino Moreno, star of the harrowing indie film “Maria Full of Grace.”

But Fourth of July weekend was a watershed moment, because there has never been a Colombian role model quite like Betancourt, who was rescued with 14 others.

Here’s John Otis of the Houston Chronicle’s South America bureau:

“Most of the kidnapped police and army soldiers held alongside her were working-class Colombians. They resented the blue-blooded Betancourt but [she] gradually earned their respect. While some hostages tried to get along with the rebels to secure better treatment, Betancourt attempted to escape five times. She constantly stood up to her guards to complain about the forced marches, the lack of medicine and the way the hostages were chained up like animals.”

That strength obviously endures in her newly-won freedom, as evidenced by what Betancourt, a French-Colombian citizen, told French radio in response to the national outcry against the rebel forces: “We have reached the point where we must change the radical, extremist vocabulary of hate, of very strong words that intimately wound the human being.”

That magnanimous philosophy — along with a genial but ferocious light that shines through the cathode ray from thousands of miles away — is perhaps the only thing that can bring change to Colombia, whose problems only begin with the quicksand of a 40-year civil war. Whether or not the 46-year-old Betancourt runs for president again, she is exactly the kind of figure that cultural and political revolutions foment around — much like the kind Barack Obama has
inspired here.

Then again, I’m regularly inspired by the two Colombian-Americans I live with. To wit:

A few weeks ago Henry, 13, informed me that it is a proven fact that greatest threat to the ozone is people talking, because it generates so much heat. I suggested he put together a global “No Talking Day,” at which he shrugged and tore off on his bike. The next week, the Current’s Mary Lucia was playing the new Verve tune “Love Is Noise” as Helen and I drove to the mall.

“That’s true,” I said to her; “sometimes love is noise.”

“Sometimes, yeah,” she said. “Sometimes love is good, sometimes it’s bad.”

“That’s right,” I said, surprised at her 9-year-old wisdom.

“Sometimes love hurts,” she concluded. “I mean, look at women and how they give birth. There’s all this love … and it hurts.”

Jim Walsh lives and grew up in East Harriet.