RIO DE JANEIRO – The Carnival of Rio de Janeiro, the biggest outdoor festival in the world, might well have its days numbered: its City Hall has announced a big cutback in government subsidies and the samba schools have threatened to samba no longer.
Since he took power last January, Rio de Janeiro Mayor Marcelo Crivella, a politically conservative Pentecostal bishop, has repeatedly expressed his antipathy for Carnival, but the battle only broke out this week when he announced a 50-percent reduction in the budget for the festival’s preparation and production.
Gospel singer and one-time missionary Crivella has placed his religion above tradition and last February refused to take part in the Carnival inaugural ceremony, something unheard of for a Rio de Janeiro mayor.
During the electoral campaign, Crivella said his faith and the dogmas of the Universal Church to which he belongs would not interfere with his political responsibilities and even promised support for the samba schools.
Months later, during Rio’s economic crisis, Crivella, a leading member of the Brazilian evangelical movement, launched an offensive against the samba schools and decided to switch part of the Carnival funds to a budget for covenanted public nursery schools.
“All this demands austerity and sacrifice of us. We must all contribute. City Hall is contributing. We’re cutting more than 1,000 political positions. Carnival must contribute along with the rest of us and help with this effort,” Crivella said.
Rio’s Independent League of Samba Schools (Liesa) warned that next year’s parade in the Sambadrome will be “nonviable” if the cutback is confirmed, and recalled Carnival’s “enormous economic, financial, job-creating benefits.”
Rio de Janeiro, Brazil’s most iconic city, welcomes millions of tourists during Carnival, famous for its majestic floats, its torrent of samba dancers and the stunning bodies that parade on the Sambadrome runway.
But the freedom that people enjoy during Carnival is questioned by many evangelicals, who use the festival to recruit converts and preach the word of God.
The Catholic Church has also objected to some Carnival parades, and this year expressed its disgust at the Special Mangueira Group school, which featured at the famous Marques de Sapucai Sambadrome a striking float displaying the images of both Jesus Christ and Orixa, god of the African pantheon.
At the request of Rio’s archdiocese, it was withdrawn.
Now, following the policies being established by Crivella, Carnival lovers are applying pressure on City Hall with the plea, “Don’t let the samba die,” as the famous song by Edson Conceicao and Aloisio Silva pleads.