Caracas’s high-rise to nowhere

More than just a metaphor, but a metaphor all the same for Chavez’s ruinous policies,
A 45-Story Walkup Beckons the Desperate

The office tower, one of Latin America’s tallest skyscrapers, was meant to be an emblem of Venezuela’s entrepreneurial mettle. But that era is gone. Now, with more than 2,500 squatters making it their home, the building symbolizes something else entirely in this city’s center.

The squatters live in the uncompleted high-rise, which lacks several basic amenities like an elevator. The smell of untreated sewage permeates the corridors. Children scale unlit stairways guided by the glow of cellphones. Some recent arrivals sleep in tents and hammocks.

The skyscraper, surrounded by billboards and murals proclaiming the advance of President Hugo Chávez’s“Bolivarian revolution,” is a symbol of the financial crisis that struck the country in the 1990s, the expanded state control over the economy that came after Mr. Chávez took office in 1999 and the housing shortage that has worsened since then, leading to widespread squatter takeovers in this city.

It’s more than just a symbol of Venezuela’s steady decline,

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.

La torre de David, the failure of Hugo.

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