Venezuela's government began to evacuate a famous "vertical slum" in Caracas Tuesday, bringing an end to a self-made community that became famous for its apocalyptic image, symbolic overtones and appearance in the Showtime series Homeland.
The half-finished skyscraper, called the "Tower of David" for its financier, David Brillembourg, was abandoned during a banking crisis in the '90s, according to The Associated Press. Years later, with the encouragement of Venezuela's late President Hugo Chavez, poor residents took over the building.
"By 2007, squatters had claimed everything from the parking garages to the rooftop helipad," the AP reports. "They rigged up electricity, opened up stores and barbershops, and created an internal management system."
The Tower is a complex symbol — of failed capitalism, anarchic dysfunction and self-built community, the wire service says. Twenty-eight floors of the 45-story structure are illegally occupied, complete with beauty parlors and day-care centers, says Reuters photographer Jorge Silva. "One could live here without ever having to go outside," Silva writes.
The building played a role in season three of Showtime's Homeland, in episodes where problem-plagued former Marine Nicholas Brody recovers from injuries — and develops an addiction to heroin — inside the tower. (The episode "The Tower of David" was actually filmed in Puerto Rico, and Venezuela called it a "distortion" of the nation, according to Foreign Policy.)
The New Yorker, which published a lengthy piece on the slum in 2013, wrote that Homeland's depiction was accurate on some points: The tower is indeed run by an ex-convict who keeps guards on duty, and in years past some of his rivals were thrown off the building.
But the real-life Tower of David is also seen as a refuge for its residents — not merely a den of violence. Reuters describes the building as "something of a model commune," saying corridors were polished, apartments were well-kept, and "work schedules, rules and admonitions plastered the walls."
Now Venezuela's government is saying the building is unsafe, reports the AP; children have fallen to their deaths from the structure. The residents of the tower are being relocated to the town of Cua, about 23 miles south of Caracas, where the government is providing them with apartments.
Residents will miss their easy access to public transportation, supermarkets and jobs, according to the AP. Reuters reported on some more sentimental regrets:
" 'Necessity brought me here, and the tower gave me a good home,' said Yuraima Parra, 27, cradling her baby daughter as soldiers loaded her possessions into a truck before dawn.
'I was here for seven years. I'm going to miss it, but it's time to move on.' ...
'The view was so beautiful,' mused caterer Robinson Alarcon, 34, who spent five years on the ninth floor and was leaving with his wife and three children on Tuesday."
The evacuation has gone peacefully so far, reports Reuters. It's not yet clear what will happen to the building.