'World's Tallest Slum' Evicted

45-story Venezuelan tower housed thousands of squatters
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Jul 23, 2014 1:49 AM CDT
Clothes and belongings hang from the balconies of the Tower of David.   (AP Photo/Fernando Llano)
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(Newser) – The beginning of the end came for the world's tallest slum yesterday as officials began evicting thousands of squatters from a haphazard community inside a half-built skyscraper in Caracas known as the Tower of David. Soldiers and riot police stood by as dozens of residents boarded buses for their new government-provided apartments in a town 23 miles south of the Venezuelan capital. The government minister overseeing Caracas' redevelopment told reporters the residents could not be allowed to stay indefinitely because the 45-story building in the heart of the capital is unsafe: Some children have fallen to their deaths from the tower, which in some places is missing walls or windows.

The minister said the tower—meant to be the crown jewel of a glittering downtown, but abandoned amid a 1990s banking crisis— started its life as a symbol of failed capitalism and later came to represent the power of community. The squatters' invasion was part of a larger appropriation of vacant buildings encouraged by the late President Hugo Chavez. By 2007, they had claimed everything from the parking garages to the rooftop helipad. They rigged up electricity, opened stores and barbershops, and created a sophisticated internal management system. But for outsiders, the tower symbolized the height of anarchic dysfunction. The surreal-looking high-rise was widely believed to harbor criminals as well as working families, and it was sometimes raided by police looking for kidnapping victims. The TV show Homeland depicted the building as a lawless place where thugs participate in international conspiracies and kill with impunity.

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