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World Cup displacement

June 27, 2012

Brazil is set to host the soccer World Cup, but what will happen to members of Amazonian tribes living near the stadium? Demolition of what they call cultural and historical sites is planned, to make way for car parking.

A member of the Indian museum community in traditional decoration, smoking a pipe.
Image: DW/S.Cowie

In the garden of a dilapidated house in Northern Rio de Janeiro, 46-year-old Alfonso Apuninam of the Alocera Camicua, an Amazonian indigenous tribe, grills river fish wrapped in palm leaves. While Alfonso prepares his meal, elsewhere in the garden others tend to their plants, smoke pipes or paint each other in traditional indigenous tribal patterns. Above the loud noise of traffic from a nearby highway, the sound of maracas and tribal chanting can be heard.

Over the gardens wall looms an imposing neighbor - Brazil's world famous Maracana soccer stadium. Not far from this tranquil setting, preparations are getting underway for the 2014 soccer World Cup.

The Maracana stadium under construction.
FIFA stipulated that 10,000 car parking spaces must be made available around the stadiumImage: DW/S.Cowie

Since 2006, the grounds of the former Rio de Janeriro Museu Do Indiao (Museum of the Indian), have been home to more than 30 indigenous Indians of varying Brazilian tribes.

They have lived here peacefully, conducting traditional rituals and welcoming visitors eager to learn more about their culture.

Out with the old

But this tranquil haven of buildings and gardens that the Indians call home is set to be demolished. Rio de Janeiro state Governor Sergio Cabral announced the plan recently, saying it was necessary to make way for a new entrance for the World Cup stadium.

Until now, local administrators have refused to comment on the construction work required for the stadium and local area, saying they would "give their answer at the right moment." But, that answer doesn't bode well with the native tribes living in the neighborhood.

In preparation for the World Cup, the entire Maracana neighborhood is undergoing intense re-development. FIFA have stipulated that 10,000 car parking spaces must be created around the stadium.

"Of course I'm worried, we're all worried, the government has never respected the rights and wishes of indigenous people," said 38-year-old Micael Oliveira, of the Amazonian Aruak tribe.

Micael studies history, archeology and indigenous studies at the nearby State University. He lives in the village earmarked for demolition with his four children.

"They began construction in front of our main entrance so we had to close it. Obviously without any kind of explanation. There's never been any kind of dialogue between us and the state, even before the construction," he added.

"I would like to see this place as a support centre for indigenous people who want to enter into the university system," he added.

Law unto themselves

The building which the tribes occupy has stood since 1846, originally donated by Brazil's federal government as a centre for the studies of indigenous peoples. In 1978, during Brazil's military dictatorship, the museum moved to Rio's Botafogo district. The building stood empty until the indigenous people moved in.

Part of the Indian museum building from the outside.
As the first indigenous museum in Latin America, the building is very special to the IndiansImage: DW/S.Cowie

Although owned by the federal government, Brazilian law clearly states that anyone who occupies land peacefully for five years is entitled to ownership.

The Indians use the space as an indigenous cultural centre, holding weekly events, selling homemade crafts and organic products, in hopes of spreading awareness of indigenous culture. Indians from across Brazil use the space if they need somewhere to stay while traveling.

For the community, the building and garden have a special meaning. It was the first museum of Indigenous culture in Latin America, and was the original headquarters of Brazil's first Indigenous rights movement, The National Indian Foundation or FUNAI.

"We haven't been offered anything else, but even if we did get an offer, we're not interested. We want this space. This is a space that has our story and our history," said 43-year-old Cuati, who divides his time between the Maracana and his village in the Porto Segura district in Bahia in northeastern Brazil.

Cuati receiving traditional body painting
The Indians use the space for traditional dance and rituals, and for selling handicraftsImage: DW/S.Cowie

"My tribe, the Pataxo, we never get into a struggle without expecting to win. In the same way we've struggled for other spaces, we'll struggle for this one. When I say we, I mean everyone, our people."

Displacement an ongoing human rights issue

Brazil has ratified the United Nations Declaration on the Right's of Indigenous Peoples, which clearly states that the rights of indigenous peoples must be respected and maintained.

Yet in the Indianist Missionary Council's (CIMI) annual report, the group reported a rise in incidents of physical violence, intimidation and displacement of indigenous people in Brazil over recent years.

No demolition or eviction date has been set for the tribal members in Maracana, nor has any dialogue taken place between the Indians and local government.

Community members in the garden of the Indian museum.
Community members in the Indian museum's gardenImage: DW/S.Cowie

It's not an unfamiliar scenario. Brazil's lack of transparency with regards to people affected by the World Cup and Olympic Games redevelopment continues to draw international attention.

Last month, both the UN and Amnesty International heavily criticized Brazil for their treatment of indigenous peoples across the country.

A Popular Committee of World Cup and Olympics of Rio document released by the UN suggest that some 30,000 people will be displaced in Rio De Janeiro by these two events alone.

Activists estimate a total of 170,000 evictions are currently taking place across Brazil. The vast majority are poor.

Despite the demolition announcement, the mood in the village is optimistic. Alfonso explains that he is confident they will be successful, and that the community will be maintained.

Author: Sam Cowie, Jessie Wingard
Editor: Sonya Diehn