Rio’s annual carnival is seen as a money-making extravaganza for the city. But evangelical Mayor Marcelo Crivella isn’t a fan and slashed funding for next month’s parade, forcing samba schools to cut their cloth accordingly. Before his bombshell announcement in June that he was halving the budget of some $7 million, newly-elected Crivella broke with tradition by not attending the opening of the event in what was widely seen as a snub to its wild party culture. Rio’s 13 elite samba schools reacted by threatening to call a halt to the world’s most famous carnival.
But the storm has since subsided, and one month to the day before the start of the party, the sewing machines are busily whirring in Samba City, a zone of warehouses and workshops where the magnificent floats and costumes are made. “With or without money, I enjoy the carnival” is the theme of one of the best known Samba schools, the Mangueira. It’s a school whose idea of “sin”-in a dig at former evangelical bishop Crivilla-is “not to enjoy the carnival.”
“The subsidy cut forced us to adapt our resources to make a beautiful, grandiose carnival, though one that is accommodated to this new reality,” artistic director Leandro Vieira told AFP, even if he believes the mayor’s motives to be religious rather than financial.
‘Show will go on’
“It’s been a difficult year” of preparation, said Fabio Pavao, who helps manage the Portela school. “The schools need the support of the public authorities, and with a mayor who likes carnival, everything is much easier.” The city’s top samba schools-the so called Special Group-compete at Rio’s Sambadromo arena with spectacular parades featuring lavishly decorated floats and thousands of dancers dressed in sequined micro-costumes. Many schools see Crivella’s subsidy cut as a declaration of war on the event, which last year brought in close to a billion dollars in tourism revenue to the city.
“We did not have the money to pay the subsidy in a comprehensive way, my responsibility as the mayor is huge and I cannot leave the hospitals without medicines and I cannot leave the schoolchildren without snacks,” the 60-year-old mayor said, justifying the cuts as an inevitable reflection of Brazil’s economic crisis. But carnival director Vieira said Crivella had other motivations. “For the evangelical doctrine, the carnival is the festival of the devil,” said Viera.
“An evangelical can think this way, but the mayor of Rio cannot. It’s a tradition that brings powerful income to the city and that’s what scares me the most, because it shows that this conservative thinking can even go against financial logic.”
‘Not a reveler’
The head of the city’s Riotur tourism office, Marcelo Alves, insisted there were no political or religious reasons for cutting resources. “The mayor is not a reveler. We should respect that. But that doesn’t mean he doesn’t like carnival. It’s very different, he likes it so much that, in a meeting, he even sang a samba that he recorded,” Alves told AFP. He added that not a day went by that Crivella-a renowned gospel singer didn’t call him for reassurance that preparations were running according to plan. Riotur in fact worked to get private funding for the samba schools to try to close the gap left by the budget cuts. The schools were grateful but regretted the extra funds had not arrived sooner, as they had already been forced to plan for a smaller parade. The big question is whether Crivella will attend. “I hope he’s there, because it’s his role to be there. And who knows, if he sees the parade he may even like it,” said Pavao.-AFP