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Squatters transform skyscraper into world's tallest slum

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Documentary ventures inside Venezuela's notorious Tower of David

tower of david caracas
tower of david caracas

Soaring 45 stories above the streets of Caracas, Venezuela is the Tower of David — an abandoned skyscraper that, over the past two decades, has gradually transformed into the world's tallest slum. City planners had high hopes for the tower when construction began in 1990, envisioning a glittering monument to Venezuela's booming financial sector. But a banking crisis brought those plans to an abrupt halt in 1994, and construction was never completed.

Squatters took over the building in 2007, and it quickly gained notoriety as a hotbed of crime and drugs. But according to Ramón Iriarte of media outlet Vocativ, that's not an accurate portrayal. Iriarte recently ventured inside the Tower of David to learn more about everyday life there, and a camera crew captured it all on video for a short documentary released earlier this month.

According to Iriarte, the tower's residents lead far more normal lives than widely believed. Living conditions are far from ideal, though the squatters regularly pool their resources to make basic fixes. And although experts describe the Tower of David as lawless and violence-plagued, its inhabitants say the reputation is largely exaggerated, insisting that crime levels are no worse than anywhere else in Caracas.

At first glance, the Tower of David's story seems similar to the fate that befell Hong Kong's Kowloon Walled City — an abandoned high-rise complex that, at its peak, housed an estimated 50,000 squatters. But unlike Kowloon, which was demolished in 1993, Caracas' towering slum remains very much alive and, in light of the country's recent housing crisis, carries a far more resonant symbolism. What was once envisioned as a testament to the glories of capitalism is today, as Iriarte says, "a monument to a failed banking system".