CARACAS, Venezuela — Residents of an abandoned skyscraper in Caracas, Venezuela are currently being relocated. Nicknamed the Tower of David, the 45-story edifice is believed to be the world’s tallest slum.
Originally named the Centro Financiero Confinanzas, the skyscraper receives its nickname from David Brillembourg, the financier who initiated its construction. After his death and a banking crisis in the country followed in close succession, construction halted in 1994.
In 2007, a large group of squatters moved into the half-built Tower of David. It is currently viewed by many, even internationally, as a hotbed of organized crime. Although residents deny this, the building’s informal leader is Alexander “El Nino” Danza, a former gang boss. Danza was also imprisoned again last November.
The police are suspicious, and they have raided the skyscraper multiple times searching for kidnap victims. It is also suspected that drug trafficking, violence and prostitution are common in the Tower.
Many of the 3,000 residents, however, view the building as a “model commune.” There are daycares, hair salons, internet cafés, tattoo parlors and grocery stores. There is also a central council that organizes work schedules for daily cleanings, and it manages the makeshift electrical grid and aqueduct water system. There are also rules written on many of the walls.
Despite this, the Tower of David is still an abandoned project with no safety measures in place. People have fallen to their deaths from the skyscraper, particularly children. The improvised water and power systems are also difficult to maintain.
The lack of elevators means that many families must make long climbs to and from their homes each day. One resident, Tatiana Pino, also complained that cement and sewage were leaking into her apartment.
Soldiers began moving people out of the Tower of David on July 22. So far, the relocations have gone peacefully, with the families being moved to Cua, located 23 miles south of Caracas.
The relocation has been named Operation Zamora, the name of the complex in Cua. The new housing in Ciudad Zamora has been provided by the government under the Great Housing Mission, a project established by the late Hugo Chavez to give poorer families adequate housing.
The residents are strongly in favor of Chavez’s policies. Many attribute both their permission to stay in the Tower of David and their new homes directly to him.
Many of Chavez’s supporters are less thankful for his successor, Nicolás Maduro. Maduro and his government debated about what to do with the residents of the Tower of David, and even set up a negotiation with the residents weeks before the relocation. The debate was open to both experts and the general public.
At the end of these discussions, Maduro’s team decided to move the tenants, saying that it was not safe to allow people to live there.
Rumors are circulating about what will happen to the building after the 1,150 families have moved out. Maduro has listed three main proposals: demolishing the building, turning it into a housing complex or making it a commercial or financial center.
One rumor is that a Chinese bank wants to purchase the property. The Chinese have already pledged a controversial loan of $5.7 billion dollars to Venezuela. The Minister for the Revolutionary Transformation of Caracas, Ernesto Villegas, claimed that this was not the reason for the relocation of the Tower of David’s residents.
Many are skeptical about this, especially considering the general distrust of President Maduro. Maduro cut government spending after he took power, and inflation has tripled.
One woman complained about her government-provided home saying that her living conditions were much better at the shelter she was previously living at. She claimed that she was barely able to buy food for her family.
The international Urban Think Tank also criticized Maduro’s handling of the Tower of David. It expressed concerns about breaking up the formed society and moving people away from their connections and employment opportunities.
– Monica Roth