Venezuela

Squatting in a 28-Story Walkup

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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 Ch├ívez'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.