Venezuela Is Evicting Poor Families to Make Way for the People Who Need It Least
The news: The roughly 5,000 residents of a massive, unfinished skyscraper in Caracas, Venezuela, called the "world's tallest slum" or the "Tower of David" are being rapidly evicted.
The reason? Big business. Specifically, Chinese bankers have reportedly expressed an interest in redeveloping the Centro Financiero Confinanzas for its original intended use as an office space.
Image credit: Getty
Now, advocates report that 100 families have already been forcibly evicted from the 45-story building as of July 23, and the remainder of its population of 1,200 families is soon to follow. This comes just two months after Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro's government promised to improve living conditions there.
The backstory: In the mid-'90s, the tower's construction was abandoned amid the death of primary investor David Brillembourg and a subsequent financial crisis. As a result, squatters took over the entire building, installing electrical and water systems, developing their own managerial system, and occupying the bottom 28 floors with shops, apartments and even daycare centers.
Image Credit: Saúl Briceño
However, the community is not without its critics. While some call it a model commune with clean common spaces and nice apartments, others point to the fact that the building's de facto leader is Alexander "El Niño" Daza, a brutal former gang boss rumored to have thrown his enemies off the upper floors.
The tower is also regarded as a well-guarded and relatively well-off base of left-wing "Chavismo," the political ideology of late President Hugo Chávez. It has stood as both a symbol of failed capitalism and the shortcomings of its alternatives for close to two decades.
Image Credit: Anadolu Agency
What Venezuelans are saying: The international Urban Think Tank worries that Maduro's government is neglecting a valuable opportunity to use the community as the basis for "innovative and inclusive development" by scattering the tower's residents. Critics say the government abandoned its initial promise to help refurnish the site to improve the lives of poor people once visions of foreign cash began dancing in their heads.
Image Credit: AP
For their part, the Venezuelan government insists the evacuations are about safety rather than money. Caracas redevelopment overseer Ernesto Villegas says the rumor that Chinese investors want to finish the building "doesn't make any sense," since the structure is unsafe, in terrible condition and possibly irreparable. He told reporters, "The tower does not meet the minimum conditions for safe, dignified living."
Still, the ultimate plans for the building clearly will not involve the current residents, Chinese investment or not. Maduro said recently that three options were on the table: destruction, the establishment of a new residential community or commercial redevelopment.
It seems like big business will likely win that competition.