| CARACAS, July 23
CARACAS, July 23 An abandoned Caracas skyscraper
dubbed the world's tallest shanty-town after a squatters'
takeover could be demolished once its inhabitants are out,
Venezuela's leader said on Wednesday.
Soldiers and officials began this week moving out the first
160 of more than 1,150 families living inside the 45-story
"Tower of David" in central Caracas. They are going to
government-provided low-income housing outside the capital.
"The Tower of David is famous. It's a symbol of a strange
situation, a vertical 'barrio,'" President Nicolas Maduro said.
"It was viewed negatively by society. We resolved it, as these
things should be resolved, with dialogue and understanding."
Originally intended to be a bank center but left unfinished
in 1994, the vast concrete skeleton was viewed by many
Venezuelans as a focus for crime and symbol of property
"invasions." Police occasionally raided it hunting kidnappers.
The squatters said the tower was a safe refuge from
dangerous slums and something of a model community. They built
carefully divided apartments and established shops and services
inside, bricking up holes to keep children safe.
The tower fascinated foreigners: An exhibition about it won
a prize at the 2012 Venice Architecture Biennale, and it even
showed up as a backdrop to an episode of U.S. TV drama
"Homeland," as the place where on-the-run terrorist suspect
Nicholas Brody was captured.
Maduro said it was an error to let people live so long in
such a precarious structure, where some people died falling off
ledges. The state is studying various options for the tower.
"Some are proposing its demolition. Others are proposing
turning it into an economic center. Some are proposing building
homes there," Maduro told reporters.
"We're going to open a debate ... If we demolish it, it's to
build something new for the local community."
Maduro's minister for the transformation of Caracas, Ernesto
Villegas, said he leaned towards demolition of the building
because it was a monument to a "bourgeois" past before the
1999-2013 rule of socialist leader Hugo Chavez.
In a second day of frenetic activity at the tower, residents
hauled down sofas, beds and other belongings, and soldiers
helped them load trucks heading to their new homes.
The squatters said they were leaving voluntarily after
advance meetings and guarantees of new apartments.
Local media have speculated the tower could be sold to
Chinese investors and turned into a bank center. There was no
reference to such a plan, however, during this week's visit to
Caracas by Chinese President Xi Jinping.
(Editing by Cynthia Osterman)