Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Please sign the petition at the end of this post

The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) captioned this photo: “NATURAL HABITAT: An indigenous woman stood in an Indian museum in Rio de Janeiro Tuesday. Squatters who have been living in the abandoned museum are protesting against their impending eviction before the 2014 World Cup in Brazil. A parking lot is planned for the location.”

An abandoned natural history museum is a “natural habitat” for indigenous people!? The colonial mentality is rancid. Natural history museums around the world originated as colonial projects to showcase the booty & plunder by white anthropologists of peoples  who they considered inferior & primitive. That’s where indigenous & African art & artifacts are displayed. Burial sites & tombs were desecrated & ransacked, ignoring that these peoples are not extinct. Their art & cultural heritage is not deemed worthy of a fine arts museum where “advanced civilizations” are showcased.

But the real story here is not the racism of the WSJ & natural history museums; it is the repugnant irony that native peoples of Brazil are now reduced to squatting in an abandoned Indian museum. For the past 6 years, about 10 ethnic groups (mostly Guarani, Pataxo, Kaingangue and Guajajara) forcibly expelled from their ancestral lands by neoliberal agribusiness enterprises, created a settlement in Rio de Janeiro by occupying an old colonial building once the premises of the Museum of the Indian. (It should be noted that the resistance of the native peoples to the encroachments of foreign agribusiness continues to this day--in the courts & in popular resistance--but faces brutal force by the Brazilian government.)

The new settlement became known as Maracanã Village since it is adjacent to the  Maracanã sports stadium now undergoing reconstruction to host the opening & closing ceremonies of the 2016 Olympics & the final match of the 2014 World Cup. The settlement premises are needed to construct parking lots, bars, restaurants & a shopping center for the sports events. On Saturday, January 12th, Maracanã Village awoke to find itself surrounded by military policy in riot gear who without warning & no warrant came to evict the entire community--although there is a continuing & protracted legal battle over the occupation of the space. Political & human rights activists began arriving at Maracanã Village in support, including a worker from the stadium construction site who was fired after joining the sit-in. The residents locked the main gate at noon & hoisted later arriving supporters into the complex by lowering a wooden ladder over the brick wall.

The resistance of the the Guarani & others should have come as no surprise to the government of Brazil since their intransigence in the courts & on the streets against agribusiness land grabs is nearly legendary. That intransigence & the support they rallied on site, on social networking & independent media threw the government off balance--at least for the meanwhile. After hours of confrontation & negotiation between activists & military cops, politicians & government officials, the military left the scene without illegally charging the building. But they will be back. Sergio Cabral, the governor of Rio de Janeiro, told a news conference in October 2012: “The Indian Museum near the Maracana will be demolished. It’s being demanded by FIFA & the World Cup Organizing Committee. Long live democracy, but the building has no historical value. We’re going to tear it down.”

In the long run there’s something else that will have to be torn down: the Brazilian state. And it’s certain the Guarani & other native peoples will be in the vanguard of that charge. Meanwhile, here is a petition addressed to Sergio Cabral, governor of the State of Rio de Janeiro to demand “that the Governor undertake not to bring down the building of the former Museum of the Indian & ensure the permanence of the people in the current Maracanã Village.”

(Photo by Pilar Olivares/Reuters)

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