By Chesney Hearst, Contributing Reporter
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – In the shadow of Rio’s famous Maracanã Stadium, Batalhão de Choque (Shock Battalion) officers, indigenous Brazilian squatters and their sympathizers clashed again at the Museu do Índio (Indian Museum) during forced evacuations on Friday, March 22nd.
The museum property has been an area of long-standing conflict. Various Brazilian indigenous groups were living in huts around the museum since 2006 after the property was abandoned. The building served as the National Indian Museum from 1953 to 1977.
The site is also in close proximity to Maracanã Stadium and government plans have included demolition of the area in preparations for the 2014 FIFA World Cup.
The Batalhão de Choque arrived at around 3AM on Friday morning and began relocating squatters who had accepted the government’s offer of housing in Jacarepaguá, in Zona Oeste (West Zone).
Reports state that tension arose at 11:30 AM, when a hut was set on fire and firefighters were deployed to extinguish the flames. The officers stormed the building at 11:45 AM using pepper spray and tear gas and reportedly fired rubber bullets.
By 12:20 PM protesters had massed attempting to block roadways and armed with rocks and sticks. Several were arrested.
“The Military Police acted in a lawful way and negotiated until they decided the fire was already spreading through the trees,” Colonel Frederico Caldas told Globo G1. He also stated that militant protesters started the fire, not indigenous Brazilian squatters.
Daniel Macedo a federal public defender who represents the indigenous people told Globo, “It was unfortunate behavior. It was abuse of authority and must be investigated. It did not have to end this way.”
“The Indians had agreed to leave the museum peacefully and in fact several women, children and the elderly had left. We asked them for another ten minutes so that everyone could leave, but before those ten minutes were up police invaded the museum using tear gas and pepper spray.” Macedo stated.
Yesterday, about sixty protesters – including native Indians who did not accept the government’s offer for new housing in Jacarepaguá – occupied the current Indian Museum, in Botafogo, Zona Sul (South Zone) for about fifteen hours. Negotiations with officials and police lead to a peaceful evacuation.
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