The Skyscraper Slums of Caracas

“That is when the problems began. The mall was supposed to improve the neighborhood, create jobs, and make this a better place to live. Now, crime has soared. Traffic and noise have become unsupportable as the government decided to use part of the mall as a warehouse for food. Trucks come and unload at all hours of the night, making it difficult to sleep.” Yelitza Campos, the neighborhood activist.

There is perhaps no better symbol of the depths to which Venezuela has sunk under President Hugo Chávez than Centro Comercial Sambil La Candelaria, a shopping mall in Caracas, the country’s teeming capital. In 2008, when he ordered its expropriation, Chávez called the mall a “monster of capitalism.” Yelitza Campos, who heads a neighborhood association across the street from the megamall, calls it a “nightmare.”

For Marta Navarro, it is simply a roof over her head.

For the past 11 months, Navarro, 23, and her three young children have been living in a small wooden cubicle carved out of one of the mall’s aboveground parking levels. One of an estimated 50,000 displaced people in Caracas, Navarro considers herself lucky.

Her living space measures 12 feet by 12 feet and has jury-rigged electrical outlets. She and her family share a large bathroom with hundreds of other refugees on each floor; there is no hot water. Residents hang their clothing along the rails, while Bolivarian National Guard units watch over the entrance, restricting access.

“The government provides us everything we need,” Navarro says. “They deliver three meals a day to our cubicle, and they provided beds and furniture when we moved in. My children attend school here, and one of my neighbors even gave birth in a clinic on the parking deck.” She sighs and looks around. “I can’t complain but it’s not home. It just doesn’t seem like home.”


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