The failure of the Caguán wasn’t because of a lack of good intentions by a highly-qualified peace team, but because the FARC had no real motives to lay down their weapons. There was more money to be made in escalating the conflict, rather than agreeing to hollow promises. One of the main discussion points of Caguán was the unyielding position of the FARC that the state had to make big concessions with land reform. Land was the flash point, which would later pitch the paramilitaries against the rebels, under the watchful eye of President Alvaro Uribe.
A long road forward
The first chapter of Blumenthal’s tenure at Fescol was marked by important contributions to peace for Colombia. The foundation printed dozens of books on the conflict, hosted conferences and created the National Peace Prize. The sociologist also raised $600,000 Euro for a school in the Nelson Mandela shanty of Cartagena which educates 600 students displaced by the conflict. In touch with the social realities of the Colombian coast, the ‘Dreams and Opportunity’ project was seen as an important opportunity for youth in the port city and the Fundación Mario Santo Domingo helped finance (thanks to Hans’ efforts) a new cultural center in Nelson Mandela.
While the public grappled with the fall-out from dialogue, the country was forced to look towards a new decade of economic growth. For Blumenthal, Colombians embraced a post-conflict mentality, while understanding that unless the real causes of the conflict were addressed, peace would remain a “process” which could benefit the many non-governmental organizations in the country but not necessarily the very people or “victims” they intended to help. The issue of land and how it can be justly distributed became Blumenthal’s ideological Trojan horse when he finished the second stage of his mission at FESCOL in 2009. “Farmers know that they need an organization that looks out for them.”
The idea for Evolucion Caribe began in March 2011 when after a series of meetings in Bogotá and Barranquilla, Blumenthal met with the directors of other policy agencies and realised that farmers had a certain level of resistance to the agencies that worked on their behalf.
“Too many NGO’s live off the idea of ‘victims’ and end up substituting the farmers with their own spokespersons,” claims Hans. “The fact that I am a Colombian and don’t have political ambitions drew me close to them.”
Taking back the country, one hectare at a time
The objective of the new foundation is to create many sustainability projects up and down the Colombian coast, which can benefit by the sweeping bill passed into effect last year by President Juan Manuel Santos, and known as the ‘Victims and Land Restitution Law.’ The law looks to compensate an estimated 4 million people who were affected by the conflict and begins to sort out the thorny issue of ownership of 10 million hectares across Colombia, which were taken from framers by the different armed groups.
By empowering a base of civilians who can bear witness to real land rights and titles, Blumenthal, believes that the Victims and Land Restitution Law is essentially the first step to a government-led agrarian reform. The very issue at the heart of the Caguán peace talks and still the force which fuels the FARC’s rusty political and military machine.
While many ex-combatants have no intention of giving back land taken at gun point, and farmer’s advocates still face death threats by denouncing falsified land deeds, ‘Evolucion Caribe’ is as bold as the founder himself.
From his sea view apartment near Cartagena, Hans basks in the glow of Caribbean sunsets, sultry afternoons wandering the walled city and the possibility that he can enjoy his favorite hobby windsurfing at any moment.
As a regional initiative and inspired by Hans’ broad international experience in conflict resolution, Evolucion Caribe is a project that looks to champion costeño identity and culture. The sociologist is working to create a network of museums from Santa Marta to Sincelejo, which would work together to showcase local culture.
But it is the Colombian farmer who will benefit most from Blumenthal’s ideas and continuing flow of “paper work.” By helping marginalized communities recover from the cycle of violence that has plagued the fertile hills and valleys of la costa, Hans knows that the most immediate obstacle to progress is the legalization of land. “For this we need to have a network of people who can narrate what happened,” says Blumenthal. Like a character cast in his favorite novel, One Hundred Years of Solitude, the story of land and dreams are inseparable for Blumenthal. And as he emerges from his self-imposed “solitude,” this good German may well see peace come to his adopted land.