Caracas (AFP) - Venezuelan authorities on Tuesday began moving residents out of the Tower of David, a Caracas skyscraper so notorious as a haven for squatters and gangs it was depicted in the US TV series "Homeland."
More than 100 families were ushered out of the unfinished 45-story building, the start of an operation by military authorities to clear a longtime symbol of festering poverty and lawlessness in the heart of the Venezuelan capital.
Its construction halted in 1993 after a financial crisis and the death of its owner, investor David Brillembourg, the building was taken over in 2007 by gangs and homeless people with the blessings of the government of President Hugo Chavez.
They remade it into a forbidding warren of makeshift shelters with armed guards -- and commanding views of the city.
Stories about the crime-ridden haven inspired "Homeland" writers to make the Tower of David a place of refuge for anti-hero Nicholas Brody, who -- running from US authorities in the last season of the hit show -- turns up there wounded and in the care of a shadowy network of Venezuelan drug traffickers.
An estimated 3,000 people live in the real Torre de David, walking up through unlit stairwells to their homes in the complex.
Its inhabitants have created a communal organization to maintain order within the building, taking turns keeping floors polished and common areas clean and secure.
They also plan cultural activities, sports and religious services.
But the unfinished office complex lacks running water, and some floors are open to the sky in places where exterior windows are missing.
On Tuesday morning, several dozen residents were seen calmly exiting the building with their belongings, and boarding government vehicles to be taken to new homes outside the city.
- 'A proper house' -
Watching with concern was 56-year-old Humberto Hidalgo, who has lived with his wife and 10 children on the building's seventh floor for the past six years.
Hidalgo, who lived on the streets before finding a home in the Tower of David, said he knows he will have to leave too, but doesn't know when.
"We still don't know where we're going, nor how long we'll stay here," he said, choking back tears. "But I know our president will give us a proper house."
"This is not an eviction," said Ernesto Villegas, the minister for revolutionary transformation. "It's a coordinated operation, in harmony with the community in the tower."
"Today we have begun with floors seven, nine and twenty-eight," he said, adding that those leaving were being voluntarily resettled in government housing in Ciudad Zamora, outside Caracas.
"As we all know, this is a structure that does not have the minimum conditions for a life that is safe and lived with dignity," said Villegas.
It was unclear why the government has decided to clear the building seven years after it was taken over.
There were unconfirmed reports that a deal with Chinese interests were behind it.
China's President Xi Jinping signed a raft of oil and mineral deals with Venezuela on Monday during a visit to Caracas.