By Anna Kaiser, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Batalhão de Choque (Shock Battalion) police units confronted a squatter community of indigenous Brazilians in the long-standing conflict surrounding a property that was the Museu do Índio (Indian Museum) from 1953 to 1977 – when the museum was moved to Botafogo. The building sits close to the Maracanã Stadium, and preparations for the 2014 World Cup are adding pressure on the government find some resolution.
Police entered the illegal settlement of sixty indigenous Brazilians on Saturday morning and proceeded to engage in a daylong standoff with residents and their supporters. As tension escalated, the squatters emerged with painted faces, headdresses, and bows and arrows and stood on the building’s roof and in its windows as police drew in closer.
State Public Defender Eduardo Newtod had previously obtained a court order stating that law enforcement needed a warrant in order to enter the squatter site. Reports indicate that while the government blamed the request for removal of the Aldeia Maracanã, or “Maracanã Village,” on FIFA, the football (soccer) organization responsible for the World Cup, FIFA representatives responded that they had never called for the action.
State Deputy and head of the Defense of Human Rights Commission, Marcelo Freixo, described the government’s actions as unacceptable. “This is the second shame committed by the government … The first was to say that the demolition of the Indian Museum was a requirement of FIFA, which was never confirmed, because FIFA sent a written communication that never had that request. And now they send a shock troop with out a judicial warrant into Aldeia Maracanã,” Freixo stated in a report.
Support for the squatter communtiy resistance to eviction has grown while the city government has increased pressure. City Councilor Brizola Neto proposed that the abandoned museum be made into a public heritage site, although it stalled in city council.
Public defenders on the state and national level are working to preserve this piece of indigenous culture in the urban metropolis. Under the assumption that the case will fail to be resolved in state court, Federal public defender, Daniel Macedo, is prepared to take the case to Federal Supreme Court.
Supporters argue the building and its grounds represent both historic and modern-day significance. Built in the colonial style in 1862, the Indian Museum represented the government’s first formal recognition and support of indigenous culture.
Today, “the indigenous peoples who occupy Aldeia Maracanã want to create a center for live culture, generated and administered by Indians,” explains long-time supporter and filmmaker Vik Birk Beck.
In the standoff on Saturday, government officials suggested gathering names and information of all the residents so they could be relocated into public housing projects. However, “no one is interested in this proposition as the whole point is that this is a cultural community center, not a housing project,” explained Vik Birck Beck.
In another recent case, Brazilian federal court ruled October 30th that a group of 170 Guarani-Kaiowá ethnic native indians can remain on a one-hectare plot of land in Mato Grosso do Sul state for the time being. The dispute hit the headlines after the group of Indians said they would rather die than be evicted.