Squatting in a 28-Story Walkup


Take that, zoning code!

The New York Times calls the squatter-filled skyscraper in Caracas a 45-story walkup (there's no working elevator), but as of yet, only the first 28 floors are occupied. Some floors don't even have walls, but satellite dishes abound:

"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?" […]

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.

And yet, even in the midst of Hugo Chávez's unionist-murderingoil-nationalizingself-impoverishing Bolivarian Revolution, life finds a way:

Strivers abound in the skyscraper. They chafe at being called "invaders," the term here for squatters, preferring the less contentious word "neighbor." A beauty salon operates on one floor. On another, an unlicensed dentist applies the brightly colored braces that are the rage in Caracas street fashion. Almost every floor has a small bodega. 

Julieth Tilano, 26, lives inside a small shop on the seventh floor with her husband and in-laws. They sell everything from plantains to Pepsi and Belmont cigarettes. Her husband, Humberto Hidalgo, 23, has a side business in which he charges children from the skyscraper 50 cents per half-hour to play PlayStation games on the four television sets in the family's living room. 

"There's opportunity in this tower," said Mr. Hidalgo, who immigrated here last year from Valledupar, Colombia.

Just don't tell Sean Penn. Jesse Walker on squatting in a different South American skyscraper here.

NEXT: Why Is Scalia So Eager to Let a Murderer Off on a Technicality?

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  1. My libertarian heart skips a beat whenever I hear the words “unlicensed dentist”. Seriously, fuck state-mandated/enforced professional licensure.

    1. Apparently they are “orthodontistas piratas”.…..-risa.aspx

      1. Mouth pirates to us regular folk.

        1. After my last dental bill, I’m not sure the license makes a difference.

          1. What? It’s not free?

            1. Nope. Dental work is still pay-your-own (or your insurer pays).

              Even with insurance, I still have to pay 35% of my bridgework.

              I just wish he wouldn’t phone and book his flight to Hawaii while I’m in the chair.

              1. Well, then, what’s the point of socialized medicine? Sounds like a big stinking scam to me.

          2. I’m fairly certain that the schooling and training required for any professional medical occupation accounts for the subsequent fees, not the “licensing,” as you’re calling it. Absent an official licensing apparatus, the costs to the patients would probably be the same. Gaining knowledge and experience isn’t free or easy, otherwise we’d all be doing our own dentistry. A root canal takes a bit more skill than changing a spark plug.

            1. Yeah, but professional spark plug changers have to be licensed to.

            2. Government mandated training.

              Haven’t you heard about the ADA protectionist war against other practitioners such as hygienists and dentures?

            3. Gaining knowledge and experience isn’t free or easy, otherwise we’d all be doing our own dentistry,

              Speak for yourself, I didn’t get into any kind of medical field because it’s boring. Not nearly enough things explode.

        2. Thanks for the translation.I was going to call the young Sasquatch out over no “Presionar numero uno por ingles por favor”

  2. But he was democratically elected!

  3. Freedom finds a way. And, yo, fuck Hugo.

  4. There’s life and opportunity in that tower –

    Until Chavez goes all Mugabe on it and wipes everyone out.

    That’s one real tragedy written between the lines of all of these celebrations of the vitality of squatter culture. In the absence of the legal protections afforded by property rights, at some point in the future the fate faced by the squatters and illegal black marketeers of Zimbabwe awaits these folks, too.

    1. Not necessarily.…..463-1.html

      1. The reviews seem to indicate that story ends with a violent eviction.

        So I guess it may be EITHER a Mugabe fate or a Guiliani fate that awaits these folks.

        Guiliani is pretty much the Mugabe of the USA though, so it might be a distinction without a difference.

  5. Unless Chavez gets booted out, I can see this panning out in three ways:
    1) Chavez ‘nationalizes’ the building, puts some sort of ‘revolutionary committee’ in control and all those little businesses get shut down.
    2) A fire breaks out (or is set by Chavistas) or some other catastrophe occurs, Chavez blames the original owners of the property and arrests them.
    3) Chavez nationalizes the building and spends money to sort of fix it up, then evicts anyone who doesn’t support him.


    1. So you’re a Muslim then?


      Best one yet. I’m gonna miss you guys when this is over!



      3. I’m gonna miss you guys when this is over!

        Sounds like a threat to me.

      4. Hey, Steven, I think your H&R posts are some of the better ones, no shit.


        1. We are all STEVE SMITHians now.

            1. Is whining all you do, or do you nag and bitch as well?

  7. Chavez is an anti-dictator!

  8. Re. the bodegas on every floor: they’ve already got Seattle beat. Was just noting that otherwise up-and-coming neighborhoods like South Lake Union are rendered barely-habitable due to the lack of corner stores.

    1. quit hating on South Lake Union.

      1. They have a Trolley!!!1one!!1!
      2. Greg Nickels calculated how many cubicles could fit into the South Lake Union commercial space: Voila! That’s how many jobs will be created.
      3. Vision!

      1. No, they have a S.L.U.T. Big difference.

        1. I didn’t want my speech to offend, so I toned it down. Trying to keep the family atmosphere that is H&R.

          1. Actually, it’s a S.L.U.S. No one ever calls it the S.L.U.T. anymore. No one. No one jokes about riding the S.L.U.T.

            1. I’ve never ridden it, but I still call it the S.L.U.T. every time I see it go past me on Westlake. To me and my nine-year-old daughter, it will forever be the S.L.U.T.!!!11

              1. I once considered riding her it to a party on Eastlake, but then I realized how pointless and stupid that was.

              2. Yeah, sure, no one jokes about it.


      2. 1. They have a Trolley!!!1one!!1!

        High Speed?

          1. Great, now I need to do a youtube mashup of the steamroller scene from Austin Powers facing down a trolly.

  9. I’ve often dreamt of just this, waking up in in an abandoned skyscraper, opening my eyes to the city skyline and a percipitous drop while pouring some coffee into an old rusted tin cup. Post-apocalyptically romantic…

    1. Isn’t that the end of Mad Max: Beyond Thunderdome?

      1. Ha. It was available for instant play on Netflix, so I was able to confirm that it is slightly similar.

        I always reference that movie whenever friends fret about the end of civilization. It’s gonna be great. We’ll get a jeep and throw some spikes on the front and dance around with Tina Turner and some freaky midgets…and lots of leather too. Whats not to like…?

  10. I hope Qadafi moves into exile in the penthouse of this place.

  11. Don’t tell Joe Kennedy either. What’s good publicity for him and Chavez is good for all.

  12. Caracas is an interesting place. Riding in from the airport at night the first time I went there, I saw the homes up in the hills all lit up. Kind of beautiful actually. On the way out in the daytime, I noticed that they were all shanties. My client/friend told me that they were all built without any utitlities. But the locals just spliced their lines to poles carrying electricity to the airport and surrounding areas. Everybody had a TV. Every once in a while someone would get electrocuted. No big deal.

    I went back a couple years later, after the floods and mudslides in the mid 90s. Thousands of people swept away in their “houses”. They did not even bother to dig them out. Not worth the trouble.

    This high rise is heaven in comparison.

    1. Lydia Lunch was talking about how they used to do this in NYC in the Village during the late seventies. They’d pay the owner of the building virtually nothing or flat nothing for rent, and they’d tap the utilities and electricity from the street. I’m not sure how it technically worked, but that’s what they were saying.

      Now the property values are so high and there are so many businesses and residents there that you can’t even take a public late-night piss for fear of arrest — in a place that used to be rubble. Things have a way of sorting themselves out sometimes.

  13. You know things are going to hell in a handbasket in an economy when people will walk up 28 floors worth of stairs to get to their residence.

    1. Bah! We used to walk up 28 floors to leave our residence, too!

      1. We used to walk up 28 floors in the snow, both ways!

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