BRAZILIAN police in riot gear have stormed an abandoned Indian museum complex and pulled out indigenous protestors who have for months resisted eviction from the building, which will be demolished as part of World Cup preparations next to the legendary Maracana football stadium.
Some went peacefully. Others were handcuffed and dragged from the building. They were transported to temporary housing provided by the government. City officials have said they will build a new Indian cultural centre that could provide housing, but that it will not be complete for another 18 months.
As the Indians were removed yesterday, a large group of their supporters clashed with police, who used tear gas, pepper spray and rubber bullets to push them back.
The museum has been at the centre of a drawn-out legal battle between the occupants and state and local authorities, who want to destroy the complex as part of renovations prior to the 2014 World Cup.
Maracana will also host the opening and closing ceremonies of the 2016 Olympics.
Officials have not said exactly what would replace the museum, but they have said the area will see a new car park, commercial centre and expanded stadium exits.
The indigenous group included people of about 10 ethnicities, mostly Guarani, Pataxo, Kaingangue and Guajajara, who lived for years in 10 homes they built on the site of the museum abandoned in 1977.
Gabriel Guajaja, a 23-year-old law student wearing an Anonymous mask and brandishing a Brazilian flag, said he turned out to support the Indians.
“It’s been 500 years that white men have been exploiting the indigenous people of this continent,” said Mr Guajaja. “The local government wants to destroy even this little bit of Indian culture we have here in the city. It’s disgraceful.”
Earlier, from inside the complex, Indians in face paint and feather headdresses negotiated with police and local government officials as others beat out a rhythm on pans.
At one point, the Indians held an infant above the wall of the complex to show negotiators the baby was there. A woman held a sign reading “they won’t pass”.
Rundown streets around the stadium are also to undergo a transformation to become a shopping and sports entertainment hub. Most of a nearby slum, about 500 metres away from the museum, has been demolished to make way for the new development.
The governor of Rio de Janeiro, Sergio Cabral, told a news conference in October that the building’s demolition was necessary for hosting the World Cup.
“The Indian museum near the Maracana will be demolished,” Mr Cabral said then. “It’s being demanded by Fifa and the World Cup Organising Committee. Long live democracy, but the building has no historical value. We’re going to tear it down.”
However, a letter from Fifa’s office in Brazil to the federal public defender’s office, published in January by the newspaper Jornal do Brazil, said that the football authority “never requested the demolition of the old Indian museum in Rio de Janeiro”.
The crumbling mansion that housed the old museum was donated by a wealthy Brazilian to the government in 1847 to serve as a centre for the study of indigenous traditions.
After the museum closed more than three decades ago, Indians started using it as a safe place to stay when they came to Rio to pursue an education, sell trinkets in the streets or get medical treatment.