Friday, August 9, 2013

Brazilian government's arsenal falters before political resistance

Last March, after several years of conflict (since 2006), Shock Battalion troops from the Brazilian military violently evicted indigenous peoples who had created a squatter settlement in an old natural history museum in Rio de Janeiro. Since it abuts Maracana Stadium, the residents (from several different tribes dispossessed of their lands by neoliberal land grabs) named it Maracana Village. Under the stadium’s multi-million dollar restoration plan for the 2014 World Cup soccer games & 2016 summer Olympics, the crumbling museum was to be bulldozed to make room for a swanky shopping mall & parking lot for well-heeled sports fans from around the world.

Within a week of the eviction (where police used tear gas, pepper spray, & rubber bullets), an umbrella group representing the several tribes filed lawsuit seeking an injunction against the Brazilian government from proceeding with the demolition. The lawsuit is brilliant but it would likely have been chewed up in the Brazilian judicial system were it not for the national uprising which began in mid-June & brought out over a million Brazilians protesting the government’s profligate spending on the twelve 2014 World Cup & 2016 Summer Olympic game stadia.

Indigenous peoples were & remain a central part of the ongoing protests. Here an indigenous man leads a protest near Maracana Stadium on June 30th. The banner reads "Maracana village resists.” Sergio Cabral, the cocky governor of Rio, talked tough for months saying ‘FIFA wants Maracana Village down & that means it’s coming down,’ but he's singing a different tune after the protests & now pledges to call off the bulldozers.

To make sure such an unreliable scoundrel as Cabral doesn’t go back on his word, the indigenous peoples recently re-occupied Maracana Village & say they will remain there until it is turned into an indigenous cultural center managed by them. They spray painted “Indigenous University” on the facade of the museum complex. In their brilliant & continuing lawsuit, the tribal coalition noted that the property of the old Indian Museum is located in the historic center of resistance against the Portuguese invasion where spirits of their ancestors dwell & “it was time to return home.” Indigenous activists have developed educational programs for “deconstructing the distorted history of our peoples in the majority of textbooks” & they want to build a communal center at the old museum dedicated to preserving indigenous history & culture. The tribes involved include the Pataxo, Tukano, Guarani, Puri, Apurina, Tupinamba, Kaingang & Satere-Mauwe peoples & they want to continue calling the center Maracana Village.

(Photo by Ricardo Moraes/Reuters)

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