Venezuela's 'skyscraper slum' provides haven for poor

Wed Apr 2, 2014 6:53am EDT
 
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By Andrew Cawthorne and Jorge Silva

CARACAS (Reuters) - It boasts a helicopter landing pad, glorious views of the Avila mountain range, and large balconies for weekend barbecues.

Yet this 45-storey skyscraper in the center of Venezuela's capital Caracas is no five-star hotel or swanky apartment block: it is a slum, probably the tallest in the world.

Dubbed the "Tower of David", it was intended to be a shining new financial center but was abandoned around 1994 after the death of its developer - financier and horse-breeder David Brillembourg - and a massive run on Venezuela's banking sector.

Squatters seized the huge concrete skeleton in 2007, then-President Hugo Chavez's socialist government turned a blind eye, and now about 3,000 people call the tower their home.

Though many Caracas residents view it as a den of thieves and a symbol of rampant disrespect for property, residents call the "Tower of David" a safe haven that rescued them from the capital's crime-ridden slums.

(Please see a photo essay at reut.rs/1s2KAZK)

It appears - at least for now - to have escaped the violence and turf warfare that followed similar building takeovers in Caracas over the last decade, often launched under the banner of the late Chavez's self-styled revolution.

Communal corridors are freshly-polished, rules and rotas are posted everywhere, and non-compliance is punished with extra "social work" decided by a cooperative and floor delegates who make up a mini-government.   Continued...

 
A view of the lobby from the top of the "Tower of David" skyscraper in Caracas February 3, 2014. REUTERS/Jorge Silva