Venezuela: the biggest squat on the planet

Yohan Demeure du CitizenPost, translated by Carolina Duarte de Jesus
16 Novembre 2014

The Tower of David, or Centro Financiero Confinanzas, is an unfinished 45 story building in the center of the business district in Caracas Venezuela’s capital. This autonomous vertical squat is also considered the “highest vertical shantytown in the world”. Jorge Silva, a local photographer, pictured the organization of the micro-society living in what is, to this day, the third highest tower in the country.

Crédit Jorge Silva / Reuters
Crédit Jorge Silva / Reuters
“Everyday I walked by this building. It became an obsession to enter the tower and to deconstruct the myth behind it. Those who don’t live there have made it the prime suspect responsible for all bad things happening in the surrounding neighbourhoods, such as rape and kidnapping” explains Jorge Silva, who has been a photographer in Venezuela for ten years.

Jorge Silva followed and came to understand the population’s organization, installed here and there inside this urban shell. Even though the population comes from the most dangerous shantytowns in Caracas, the photographer managed to prove that The Tower of David embodies real improvements in their living conditions. In fact, the omnipresence of poverty does not stop them from being resourceful, supportive, respectful or secure. 

 The skyscraper’s construction began in 1990 and was supposed to be the financial center of a “Venezuelan Wall Street”, dreamt up by businessman David Brillembourg. After his death in 1993 and 1994’s financial crisis, the building’s construction was put to an end: today there is only 60% of the skyscraper. In 2007, Caracas’s Town Hall authorized homeless people to shelter in the building’s first story in an effort to fight housing problems. Quickly, the first 28 floors were inhabited; further up, the construction hadn’t progressed much, which explains the absence of people. In 2013, as many as 3600 people lived in The Tower of David, paying a rent of 170 bolivars (21 euros) to finance a security patrol present 24/7. 

There are no elevators, no handrails and even some walls are missing, but it would seem that water and electricity function well in some floors thanks to the inventiveness of the inhabitants. The Tower also has a heliport and big balconies which are used to make huge barbecues. There is also a gym on the roof, and you can find a sewing shop, a hairdresser, a beauty salon, a dentist and numerous grocery stores in the building. Nowadays, the skyscraper is truly a little town in which you can live without having ever to go out, even though it was not originally built to be lived in. 

The Tower of David’s society organization shows us that even though crime is present, certain media wrongly qualify it as  “the tower of terror”. And, as the photographer Jorge Silva was told by one of its inhabitants, the exceptional character of this shantytown makes of its inhabitants “the richest amongst the poor”. A recent study was conducted by the Venezuelan government on the building’s hygiene, and there has been a progressive rehousing (since July 2014) of the 1200 families present, into neighbourhoods far from the capital.