When I went to see an unfinished skyscraper in central Caracas, I got a chance to see what an urban invasion looks like from the outside.
BBC in Spanish recently did a television report about this very building. See a view of the same urban invasion from the inside at the link below.
Now that you’ve seen the report, here’s the back story: for many years in the financial center of Caracas, next to the 30-story Banco Mercantil, there was an unfinished office building almost as high. The builder had some money trouble and stopped work. It was a shell – the super-structure was up, but the floors were just open platforms. Then, in 2007, suddenly, construction began again. But the office building was not being finished, no; it was something else. Another squatter invasion had begun.
President Chavez’s government has been big on allowing unused resources to be taken over by the poor. The laws now support squatters more than ever, making property invasions hard to stop. An observer I know well watched from a nearby office building as cardboard and corrogated metal began going up on some of the middle floors. Soon, the hollowed out red construction bricks of Caracas’ hillside barrios began to go up, closing in some of the floors.
Finally, the certain evidence of residence began to appear – were they clotheslines? Paint? Lights? No, it was those DirecTV dishes you can see everywhere in the “ranchos” (slums). As for water and sewage, don’t even ask. Would an open air construction site have them ? Who knows? But illegally tapping into electricity – that’s easy. And people don’t want to be stuck with the government channels when Chavez spends hours now on an almost daily basis using them for his improvised speeches. When times are tough and other luxuries out of reach, having DIRECTV channels from around the world is the Caracas toy of choice.
Interestingly, in early 2010, President Chavez was giving a speech in the neighborhood and asked about the Sambil shopping mall, about ready to open across the street. When he was told what it was, he apparently decided on a whim that it would be expropriated and used as a government Mercal, a government food distribution center. The center will be opening soon. And what about the developer of the Sambil mall? In practice, I was told, owners of expropriated property have no recourse, no ability to make a claim against the loss.
Below are some more urban images from Caracas. The top left is a shot of satellite dishes. The bottom photo with the caption sliced off is “Another View, with downtown Caracas and El Avila in background”.