- Megan Janetsky
- Medellin Colombia
Real estate ads appear just like any other real estate internet site.
A three bedroom, two bathroom apartment for rent with a pool on the Caribbean coast of Colombia.
A four bedroom, four bathroom house with a wooden floor near the border with Panama surrounded by jungle.
A great mansion Art Deco in the heart of the second largest city in Colombia, Medellín.
Dbehind some of these ads real estate there is a catch.
The houses for sale were once owned by right-wing ex-paramilitaries and left-wing guerrillas from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) who fought each other during the decades that Colombia’s armed conflict lasted.
In February, Colombia launched an online real estate agency called FRV goods, in an attempt to sell more than 1,600 houses, apartments, farms and lots of land that were confiscated by the government or handed over by armed groups that have demobilized in recent years.
The money obtained from the properties, which is estimated at about US $ 140.3 million, will be used to pay reparations to more than seven million victims of the armed conflict.
But while the cash and gold delivered as part of the peace process are easy to convert into funds for the victims, some of the houses and apartments have been “impossible” to sell or rent, explains Miguel Avendaño, who heads the fund for Repair Unit for the Victims of Colombia.
“The fund needed something like a real estate service,” Avendaño said. “We cannot be left behind because there were very few sales and rentals. (Having this service) means more resources for victims“, he assures.
Since ads began running in 2018, the Victims Unit has only managed to sell 12 properties that were previously owned by the combatants.
Avendaño explains that the real estate agency is an attempt to add transparency to sales and change the idea of the bloody past of properties to favor repairs, while the country struggles to heal.
The Montecasino mansion
Many of the properties are located in rural areas where the conflict continues five years after the FARC guerrillas signed the peace agreement with the government.
Others are in safer areas, but continue to be overshadowed by their violent history, such as the mansión Montecasino, in Medellín.
The marble-clad mansion is located in the heart of the dense, mountainous city. It is rented for US $ 4,700 per month. It has 12 bedrooms, 13 bathrooms, a spiral staircase, a lounge bar, a winery, multiple pools and fountains, extensive gardens and a shell-shaped gold-painted bathtub.
The mansion’s previous owners were the founders of the now demobilized right-wing paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia.
The land on which it was built was once the site of the bloodshed and tragedy.
It was a meeting point where paramilitary chiefs planned some of the worst atrocities of Colombia’s long conflict, including bombings and massacres, where people were tortured and some of the country’s most feared hitmen trained.
“It is a mansion that is unlike any other, it occupies three hectares in the best neighborhood of Medellín, but it was impossible to sell“Avendaño says of the property’s dark past.
It took civil engineer Sergio Ortiz to appreciate the property’s potential.
The 52-year-old, who says his own family is a victim of the armed conflict, hopes to rent the property and transform the land into a park open to the public.
If his offer for the property is accepted, the Ortiz family wants to turn the mansion into a physiotherapy center and an adjacent building in a music center.
He says his plan is to employ other victims of the conflict and “move on” leaving the past behind.
“What we want to offer citizens is a space for sports and recreation,” Ortiz describes as he walks through the overgrown gardens and luxurious but dilapidated hallways of the mansion.
“This is our way of helping our country, generating a space of peace and tranquility“, reports.
“Desire of death”
While properties in larger cities can be relatively safe, buying land in areas where armed dissident groups continue to operate and there is little state presence can be risky, says Elizabeth Dickinson, senior analyst at Crisis Grupo in Colombia.
“Everyone knows who they belonged to, and of course there are some feelings in those areas of who they still really belong to,” explains Dickinson.
There were cases in which tenants were forced to abandon their new homes and others in which potential buyers were threatened and withdrew.
But Avendaño hopes that as time passes and more properties that once belonged to the guerrillas or paramilitaries become normal homes, this will become less of a problem.
Two months after the launch of the real estate agency 10 properties have already been sold.
Ortiz is also feeling hopeful as he looks out over the grounds from the Montecasino mansion.
“This is where we imagine the garden,” he details, pointing to a strip of trees and dense undergrowth.
“We want flowers, flowers and more flowers because they mean life,” he says.
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Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.