Arts & Entertainment

‘Carnival of democracy’ kicks off in Rio de Janeiro

By Carlos A. Moreno

Rio de Janeiro, Feb 17 (EFE).- “I declare the carnival of democracy to now be open!” the Rei Momo (King Momo) of Brazil’s world-famous Rio Carnival exclaimed after receiving the keys to the city from the mayor during an official ceremony here Friday, referring to the failed Jan. 8 insurrection by supporters of former President Jair Bolsonaro.

Both the Carnival king, who will symbolically govern Rio de Janeiro until Ash Wednesday (Feb. 22), and Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes recalled that event earlier this year in Brasilia when a mob of thousands of radical Bolsonaro supporters invaded and vandalized the Planalto presidential palace, the National Congress building and the Supreme Federal Court building.

They also said that Brazilians can celebrate today thanks to the strength of the country’s institutions.

“In this Carnival, we’re also celebrating democracy. Brazil’s institutions were once again put to the test, as has happened repeatedly throughout our history, and once again they showed themselves to be even stronger,” Paes said during the ceremony at Rio’s Palacio da Cidade, the mayor’s residence.

Livened up by music from the Rio Municipal Guard’s band and the Academicos do Grande Rio samba school, the reigning Rio Carnival champions, the ceremony once again showed that world famous party to also be a vehicle for political expression.

The Rio Carnival’s street parties (“blocos”) and samba schools have long used their parades to satirize politicians, criticize governments and denounce Brazil’s longstanding social and racial inequalities.

And it will be no different this year, when several “blocos” will parade to songs containing lyrics critical of Bolsonaro, an admirer of the country’s 1964-1985 military regime who came up just short in his re-election bid and is accused by his successor, Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, of instigating the Jan. 8 violence.

Bolsonaro, a social conservative and eager participant in the country’s culture wars, said during his 2019-2022 administration that many Carnival street parties had degenerated into debauchery and sparked controversy when he posted a video of one lewd incident to his Twitter account.

Rio de Janeiro’s mayor said this year’s Carnival also is a celebration of life after that raucous celebration was canceled altogether in 2021 and held in a lower-key fashion last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“We’re celebrating life after two Carnivals in which we were locked down due to the pandemic and we didn’t know if we’d be able to gather again for these festivities,” said Paes, a member of the centrist Social Democratic Party (PSD).

He recalled that last year’s key-handover ceremony was merely symbolic because the Covid-19 situation then was still not entirely conducive to Rio’s holding a party of this magnitude.

This year, however, the city is prepared to restake its claim to being the “world carnival capital,” the mayor said.

“Today we reclaim this moment of great seriousness for someone exercising authority in a city where Carnival is so important,” Paes said, referring to the nearly $870 million in revenue Rio de Janeiro hopes to earn from this year’s festivities.

Nationwide, Brazil expects that some 46 million revelers, including thousands of foreign tourists, will take to the streets over the next five days and that Carnival revenue will total $1.55 billion.

The epicenter of this massive festival will be Rio de Janeiro, where once again one of the main highlights will be the parade of the city’s elite samba schools at the Sambadrome, an event regarded as the world’s biggest open-air spectacle. EFE


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