The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

A video tour of the ‘Tower of David,’ Venezuela’s infamous skyscraper-turned-slum

Today, the "Tower of David" is often described as the world’s tallest slum, its most dangerous communal housing project or some combination of the two. But when the skyscraper was conceived in the early '90s, it was supposed to be a testament to the booming financial class in the Venezuelan capital of Caracas. Construction was abandoned mid-way after the banking crisis of 1994, and the building sat empty until a charismatic gang-member-turned-evangelical-pastor led an occupation in 2007.

Since then, it’s been the subject of near-constant media attention and political controversy, particularly among Venezuelans who want the squatters kicked out. But rarely do reporters get a view like the one Vocativ recorded from the 23rd floor, as part of this mini-documentary and video tour of the iconic site:

Because the Tower of David doesn’t have elevators, the camera crew had to take motorcycles up to the 10th floor from the parking garage and then climb stairs the rest of the way — standard procedure for many of the 2,500-plus people who live in the building. Residents have also cobbled together electrical and plumbing systems and organized a co-op — especially amazing when you consider that things like toilets and sinks have to be hauled up several floors.

Though now-deceased former president Hugo Chavez was not in office at the time of the '94 banking collapse, the building is still seen as what the New Yorker’s Jon Lee Anderson once called “the ultimate symbol” of Chavez’s failure as an economic reformer. Venezuela suffers from a serious and unresolved housing shortage, which is part of why squatting — in racetracks, abandoned buildings or motels — can be common. The question is whether the country's new leader, Nicholas Maduro, could reverse that backslide. Early forecasts show little cause for optimism, unfortunately.