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Uncertainty for Rio stadium’s indigenous squatters

RIO DE JANEIRO (AP) – As Rio prepares to host the 2014 World Cup and 2016 Olympics, all eyes are turning to the gray and blue walls of the storied Maracana stadium.

Yet even with all the attention, few people notice about 30 indigenous people who have been squatting in the shadow of the cathedral of Brazilian soccer and will have to move as part of the neighborhood’s $63.2 million makeover.

Maracana, built for the 1950 World Cup, will be the keystone of the city’s upcoming sporting events, hosting the opening and closing ceremonies of the Olympics and the final match of World Cup.

The squatters don’t fit into the state’s plans for the neighborhood’s makeover.

The group living next to the stadium’s wall includes men and women of about 10 ethnicities _ mostly Guarani, Pataxo, Kaingangue and Guajajara. They live in 10 homes they built on the site of Rio’s old Indian Museum, which has been abandoned since 1977.

Carlos Tukano, the group’s leader, says the space provides a place to stay for indigenous people visiting Rio, whether looking for medical care, pursuing their education or hawking crafts to tourists on the beach.

“When Indians came to the city, they didn’t have their own space, they didn’t have money, and would have to sleep out in the streets,” said Tukano, himself from a village deep in the Amazon. “We said, ‘There is no one here, let’s make this our space.'”

They’ve got history on their side.

The crumbling mansion with soaring ceilings that housed the old museum was donated by a wealthy Brazilian to the government in 1847, specifically to serve as a center for the study of indigenous traditions.

The fate of the squatters is uncertain. Tukano has heard only rumors about what will happen to the area: that it’ll turn into a parking lot, or a shopping center, or just a walkway into the stadium.

They know they’ll have to move, but they’ve had no official communication from the government about when or how.

“We’re waiting for a shot in the dark,” he said. “We don’t know when or where it’s coming from.”

(Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.)