Once one of Latin America’s most developed cities, Caracas now grapples with an acute housing shortage of about 400,000 units, breeding building invasions. In the area around the Tower of David, squatters have occupied 20 other properties, including the Viasa and Radio Continente towers. White elephants occupying the cityscape, like the Sambil shopping mall close to the Tower of David and seized by the government, now house flood victims.
Private construction of housing here has virtually ground to a halt because of fears of government expropriation. The government, hobbled by inefficiency, has built little housing of its own for the poor. The policies toward squatters are also unclear and in flux, effectively allowing many to stay in once empty properties.
On occasion, Mr. Chávez has called for squatters to be dislodged. But in January, he urged the poor to occupy unused land in well-heeled parts of Caracas. Then he qualified these remarks by asking them to have “patience” as officials tried to build low-income housing.
Many here refuse to wait. The Tower of David stands as a parable of hope for some and of dread for others.
“That building is a symbol of Venezuela’s decline,” said Benedicto Vera, 55, an activist in downtown Caracas. “What’s our future if our people are living like animals in unsafe skyscrapers?”
Yet squatters, who live on 28 stories and plan to go higher, have created a semblance of order within the skyscraper they now call their own. Sentries with walkie-talkies guard entrances. Each inhabited floor has electricity, jury-rigged to the grid, and water is transported up from the ground floor.