Venezuela Begins Evicting Residents From Torre David, The World’s Tallest Squat

The thousands of residents of Venezuela's infamous vertical slum are being moved to a new housing complex by city authorities.

The thousands of squatters in Torre David, a half-built 52-story skyscraper in Caracas, Venezuela, are being relocated. City authorities are moving a total of more than 1,150 families into a new social housing complex in Ciudad Zamora, more than an hour’s drive from their illegally occupied home.

The Tower of David, known as the tallest squat in the world, has been made famous by TV shows like Homeland, featured in photo essays and documentaries, and even celebrated in design biennales.

Named for its financier, David Brillembourg, construction halted amidst a banking crisis in the late ‘90s. But after late ex-president Hugo Chavez encouraged its illegal occupation in 2007, it soon housed some 3,000 residents. Since then, the tower grew into a vertical dystopia of sorts, with a makeshift electrical grid, aqueduct water system, a hair salon, Internet cafes, tattoo parlors, and grocery stores. Its homegrown government was headed by Alexander "el Niño" Daza, a born-again ex-convict who was imprisoned again in November.

Government officials and representatives from the tower have been negotiating for three months about the fate of the slum’s residents. Under the state’s Great Housing Mission project, they’re now moving inhabitants out three stories at a time, herding them in buses in an operation overseen by troops and riot police.The government insists the relocation, which has so far gone peacefully, is motivated by humanitarian, not commercial, concerns—they claim the tower is unsafe, as several children had fallen to their deaths from upper stories, parts of which lack walls. Ernesto Villegas, a representative from the revolutionary transformation of greater Caracas, told reporters that a school would be opened at the new housing complex, and that residents would be given “dignified homes.”

But resident reaction to the displacement has been mixed. Despite the Tower of David’s often being depicted as an anarchic, crime-ridden emblem of capitalism gone wrong, some families found in it a refuge. “Necessity brought me here, and the tower gave me a good home,” Yuraima Parra, 27, told Reuters. “I was here for seven years. I'm going to miss it, but it's time to move on.”

Miriam Figueroa, who runs a shop out of her apartment, told the Guardian, "I've been here since the beginning. I carried every single one of these cinder blocks on my back up all those flights of steps. The government isn't offering to recognise that effort, or even the cost of all of these materials. If I refuse the one option they've offered, I am back in the street." The relocation could be a problematic solution on many levels, as Urban Think Tank points out. The government is uprooting a troubled but functioning micro-city, and it will take massive effort for the families to rebuild their lives an hour away from any social networks or employment opportunities they had in Caracas. The move could exacerbate the residents' poverty.

The fate of the soon-to-be-empty tower is yet to be announced. One local paper reported that a Chinese consortium bought the building to use as its headquarters, but authorities denied the reports.

[H/T the Guardian]

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