Andreína Contreras, a 26-year-old mother of two, lived until this week in the “Tower of David,” in Caracas, Venezuela, which has been described as the world’s tallest slum, because it is situated in an abandoned skyscraper.
She is among an estimated 1,150 families living in the tower who are to be removed and relocated permanently this week, seven years after the officially named Torre Confinanzas was first occupied as a result of Venezuela’s financial crisis — and with the explicit encouragement of the government of then-President Hugo Chavez.
A family saying goodbye to their home on the 27th floor. All photos by Alejandro Cegarra.
“In the beginning everything was awful, I had to sleep in a tent for three months,” said Contreras, who moved into the Tower of David six years ago from an outlying area in Caracas. “The sewage reached up to my knees in some places. Little by little, I made my space and the conditions improved.”
With time, the Tower of David was recognized for its relative order in Caracas, despite stigmas that residents faced for living there, and claims that it was a magnet for criminality. Safety concerns prompted authorities to seek the slum’s closure, as some of the floors in the building lack outer walls and windows.
Children kick a ball in a hallway in the Tower of David.
At 620-feet tall, Torre Confinanzas is the third highest skyscraper in Caracas. It has 45 floors — 28 of which are occupied by families — two towers, and a parking lot.
At the time of its construction in the early 90s, the building was intended as a financial center. But in 1994, Venezuela’s economic crisis left Torre Confinanzas unfinished, at 60 percent of its proposed design. Construction was abandoned, and a few years later, the first families seeking housing began to show up and settle inside.
It earned its nickname "Tower of David" from the building's original developer, David Brillembourg.
A woman prepares coffee for neighbors who were moving out of the Tower of David.
At a press conference on Tuesday, Ernesto Villegas, the minister of the "transformation" of greater Caracas, explained that the relocation was being done “harmoniously, with the community of Torre Confinanzas.” Residents confirmed to VICE News that the minister of interior, Miguel Rodríguez Torres, arrived at the complex in person on Monday evening, a few hours before the operation began.
The eviction or “relocation” of tower residents started that evening with the removal of 77 families. Families were to be relocated to several government apartments in other regions, such as Cúa and Valles del Tuy, each located several hours away from downtown Caracas.
Two men watch the rain over Caracas as they await their relocation from the 27th floor of the tower.
Officials told VICE News that the second phase of the eviction took place on Thursday. In that phase, 83 families were moved out of the 7th, 9th and 28th floors. In total, 160 families were expected to be relocated this week alone.
Officials, however, are not saying much, and there is still uncertainty in the Tower of David's future. A man selling goods in front of the tower, who declined to give his name but told VICE News he lived in it for the past seven years, said that the tower's eviction "should be completed by August."
A girl awaits eviction with her family on the 26th floor.
Contreras said on Tuesday night that she had not yet packed. She said that the idea was “a drag,” and that it was complicated to leave a place where she had lived for so long, raising her two children, who are 3 and 5 years old.
Although at her current residence in the tower she doesn’t have running water or gas, Contreras said she is afraid that her new place will not have much better conditions, nor a school for her children.
A family takes its time to gather belongings before leaving the tower.
“The minister has said that there will be a school. In case there isn’t, I just signed mine up for two little schools that are here,” Contreras said, referring to the area around the tower. “They are public, so they won’t miss anything from the syllabus. And if anything happens, I can commute from there to bring them.”