Indigenous camps sacrificed in Rio to make way for World Cup

 
 
A group of indigenous Brazilians had been camping out in an old run-down building in Rio for nearly seven years, when heavily-armed military police kicked about 30 of them and their supporters out on March 22. The authorities plan to turn this building – formerly Rio’s Indian Museum, now dubbed Maracana village – into a large sports-themed mall ahead of the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympic Games.
 
Flanked by three armored vehicles and a helicopter, wielding batons, tear gas, and sound grenades, the military police strong-armed their way into the historical building. (The building was built by the Duke of Saxony and bequeathed to the indigenous movement, before being abandoned in 1977). Violent clashes occurred during the raid, and the military police made several arrests.
 
Back in January, several hundreds of activists had gathered to protest the authorities’ first attempt to remove the indigenous families, which failed because the police did not at the time have a written eviction order to enter the building.
 
Video filmed by our Observer and posted on YouTube.
 
Since 2006, indigenous groups from various ethnicities have occupied the building with the goal of transforming it into a cultural centre. They named it in memory of the Maracana tribe, one of the oldest of the Rio region. Rio’s legendary football stadium, which is also named after this tribe, borders the former museum.
 
With just one year to go until the World Cup and three until the Olympic Games, Rio’s authorities plan to transform the building into a mall connected to the Maracana sports complex.
 
The building of the former Indian Museum. Photo uploaded to Facebook.
 
The indigenous groups’ makeshift camp, inside the run-down building. Photo posted on Facebook.
Contributors

“In Brazil, when a minority tries to get itself heard, the police is sent in”

Carlos Latuff is a newspaper cartoonist. He works with union newspapers and has a blog. He lives in Rio de Janeiro and was present during the evacuation of the Maracana village.
 
The Maracana village matter sheds some light on two problems that are afflicting Brazil these days: the government’s utter contempt for indigenous peoples and the real estate bubble that is continuing to grow a year prior to the World Cup.
 
When [in 2007] Brazil was chosen to host the 2014 World Cup, the Maracana village became highly prized by real estate agents who started wrangling over this ideally-located space, positioned right against the Maracana stadium [Editor’s note: where several World Cup games will take place].
 
Indigenous tribes decided to occupy the space to show the authorities that this building has historical and spiritual importance for them. But in Brazil, whenever minorities try to get themselves heard, the police is sent in to crack down on them, often with force. On March 22, the police reaction was really disproportionate. Some policemen were armed with high-caliber weapons such as sonic rifles. 
 
Armed vehicle belonging to the military police. Photo uploaded to Twitpic by our Observer.
  
“To the indigenous people, it’s more than a run-down building”

The situation very quickly got out of hand. Some of the indigenous people decided to light a bonfire and then to dance around it to mark their departure. A spark accidentally landed on a tent and started a fire, which was immediately put out by firefighters.
 
However, the police decided that the fire had been intentionally set and so they reacted in a very aggressive manner, spraying the crowd with tear gas and pepper spay. In the video that I filmed, Marcelo Freixo [Editor’s note: a member of parliament belonging to the Socialism and Liberty party], who saw the incident unfold, stated that the fire was completely accidental.
 
Now, the Maracana village is empty. The police are guarding it so that nobody can enter the building. Over the past week, protests for indigenous rights have been organized all over the city.
 
Last Sunday, I attended a public meeting at the local courthouse that brought together indigenous representatives and members of FUNAI [Editor’s note: a government organization focused on indigenous issues] to find a mutually agreeable solution. But the indigenous groups do not want to relinquish their claim on Maracana village, which for them is not a run-down building but fully part of their territory.
 
Traditional indigenous ceremony at Maracana village. Video uploaded to YouTube.
 
Post written with FRANCE 24 journalist Grégoire Remund.
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