What moves Rio State Governor, Sérgio Cabral, against the Indians?

For original article in Jornal do Brasil click here.

On Saturday, January 12, a scene unfolded in Rio de Janeiro which to the untrained eye appeared anachronistic to the 21st Century: a heavily armed battalion of military police Special Forces (“Batalhão de Choque,” known locally by the acronym BOPE) – uniformed and ready for battle – surrounded a building inhabited by native Brazilian Indians carrying bows and arrows. Travesty aside, it exemplified the undemocratic manner Rio State authorities have adopted in upgrading the Maracanã Stadium. 

On those very grounds, on July 16, 1950, Brazil was stunningly defeated when Uruguayan player, Alcides Ghiggia, scored against the home team in what became his country’s second and last World Cup victory to date. When recounting the event some years later, the player ironically quipped: “Only three people have silenced the Maracanã with 200,000 spectators: Frank Sinatra, Pope Jean Paul II, and me.”

This illustrates how in its 62-year history, the Stadium – officially named after Carioca journalist Mário Filho but known locally by the name of the neighborhood it sits in – has played host to a wide and diverse public. Before individualized seating, thousands of people, most of whom were poor but not only the poor, would watch the game on their feet. They would stand in the massive “general-zone” (“geralzona”) and easily surpass 100,000 people.

As a diehard ‘Vasco da Gamma’ supporter and son of a football and samba fanatic, Rio State Governor, Sérgio Cabral Filho, is sure to have been at countless games when the Stadium was at its full capacity – experiencing first hand a far greater volume of people than the one set by FIFA of 76,000 persons per match, on behalf of which the Stadium is being refurbished with the introduction of individualized seating.

A large police apparatus was used to intimidate the indigenous groups who occupy Aldeia Maracanã (Maracanã Village)

The terms of the reforms were decided behind closed doors; there was neither consultation with the public nor with specialized bodies. No participatory measures were taken whatsoever. No voices were heard other than those in the interests of FIFA, the Brazilian Football Confederation (aka CBF, then headed by Ricardo Teixeira whose objectives were never clear) and Rio State’s politicians led by Sérgio Cabral. However, the reforms are being financed with public money; through either publicly-owned banks or the taxes collected on the sale of each ticket – tickets bought by those whose voices were not heard. 

Curiously, the project that ultimately determined the impossibility of coexistence between the Stadium and its next-door building began long before a stadium was actually built, and also took place behind closed doors without popular participation.

Dating as far back as 1862, the building next door boasts much more than its turn-of-the-century architecture. The ancient mansion, once crowned ‘Museum of the Indian,’ has housed over 150 years of history, sometimes literally. It was between its walls that Marshall Rondon (later joined by the anthropologist Darcy Ribeiro and the Villas Boas brothers) plotted the national strategy for the protection of indigenous peoples. From these premises they fought for and defended the Xingu National Park that guaranteed protection to numerous indigenous groups – a story retold in the eponymous film currently in cinemas and recently broadcast on Globo TV. The building has ever since maintained a role in the preservation of indigenous culture and became a permanent place of shelter for native Indians when travelling to or through Rio, known to them as the Maracanã Village.

Coexistence between the needs of the 150-year old building and those of the 62-year old Stadium has always been harmonious. Despite the demands of up to 200,000 football fans at any given time, the old building has never disturbed the so-called “urban mobility” of the area. The coming and going of these hundreds of thousands of people has flowed without interruption with the exception of the occasional traffic jam caused by the private cars transporting them. 

So tell me, if hundreds of thousands of people have circulated in and out of the Stadium without major problems – be they fans of football, Frank Sinatra or the Pope – what is the basis for the claim that the Museum will disturb the “urban mobility” of far smaller crowds?

There is talk of the need for a new parking lot. Once again we see the prioritization of individual concerns above all else. Authorities could, for example, in the name of “mobility” as well as the environment, prioritize the construction of bus lanes which (along with the Metro and SuperVia trains) can do much more for the unencumbered flow of people than a parking lot.

In reality, government efforts thus far – including the ridiculous act of mobilizing troops to surround an indigenous village guarded only by bows and arrows, and the odd improvised club – betray the fact that the government of Sérgio Cabral has ulterior motives. 

What can be perceived is the desire to prepare the area for the exploitation of the 76,000 World Cup supporters by subjecting them to expensive parking lot fees and shopping malls. And behind these initiatives, it seems, are the interests of mega-businessman Eike Batista, the man who gave the Governor private jets for his leisurely trips.

It is because of these less-than-noble interests that the historical building – once the birth place of an indigenous political agenda turned ‘Museum of the Indian’ and reference point for the country’s Indigenous peoples – is being condemned to the garbage heap. What’s worse, the local justice system has been silent throughout all of this – or perhaps its complicity can be implied after Chief Justice Maria Helena Cisne of the Second-Regional Tribunal, revoked the injunction protecting the indigenous village against eviction. There is still time to prevent Brazil from tossing away a piece of its history; the Federal State Prosecutor, a handful of politicians and some civil society activists believe as much and are so far the only ones engaged in this battle. However, maybe by next Monday morning, before the State Governor sanctions another Dantesque act where machine guns are pitted against bows and arrows endangering a part of Brazilian history, some other sleeping souls will awaken.