Rio kicks off Carnival parade with anti-establishment tone

There are some Brazilians who probably aren’t finding much to enjoy in Rio de Janeiro’s colorful Carnival parades — the mayor, the governor and the president.

An anti-establishment tone is echoing through this year’s celebrations in Brazil. And Sunday night’s parade at Rio’s Sambadrome featured entries that blasted the country’s political leadership at a moment of economic slump and political scandal.

President Michel Temer, Rio de Janeiro state Gov. Luiz Fernando Pezao and Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella were expected to skip the two-day bash at the Sambadrome. The samba parades used to be a magnet for politicians before a sprawling corruption investigation around state-run oil giant Petrobras began in 2014. Now officeholders fear being booed and even attacked by critics during the party.

Temer, whose popularity is in single digits, spent his last Carnival as president with a group of 40 people on a military-guarded beach south of Rio. Earlier a few hundred revelers in the capital of Brasilia organized a street party to make fun of his recent poor health and his unpopular pension overhaul.

Crivella was photographed by the newspaper O Globo at Sao Paulo’s international airport near the time the parade began. Pezao’s whereabouts were not disclosed.

In the Sambadrome or at street parties, Carnival revelers usually take the five-day extravaganza to forget everyday problems, and most of them will do just that. But the political message is clearly more present this time than in recent years.

“This has been the most political bash since the middle of the ’80s when Brazil’s military dictatorship was about to end,” Carnival historian Luiz Antonio Simas said. “Brazil has been mired in political chaos and corruption scandals and people want to vent their frustrations at the same time they want to be in the party. That is a great mix for Carnival.”

Brazil is holding a presidential election in October and the results are hard to predict in a polarized society. The front-runner in opinion polls is former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, but he faces a growing risk of being arrested within weeks following a corruption conviction.

Da Silva has also been a polarizing figure at Carnival, with supporters using costumes and banners criticizing Brazil’s judiciary in his defense and adversaries bringing dolls that feature the former president in prison clothing.

In Rio, though, the most criticized politician by far is the mayor.

Mangueira, one of Rio’s most popular samba schools, prepared a float featuring a plastic butt with Crivella’s name on it. Since taking office last year, the evangelical bishop-turned-politician has cut city funding for samba schools and avoided the bash.

A shirt popular among revelers says “Carnival will kick the Crivella out of you.” Earrings, tiaras and banners have also been used against the mayor, who has said he has nothing against Carnival but considers it to be “only a party.”

“The mayor has no idea what Carnival is and doesn’t separate his religion from our city’s most important party,” said Lucia Araujo, who was wearing a “Fora Crivella” (Crivella out) tiara at a street party. “This tiara doesn’t mean I don’t want all the others out, too. These politicians are destroying our hope for a better Brazil, they all need to go.”

Sao Paulo Mayor Joao Doria, who was until recently seen as a presidential hopeful, heard insults as he visited that city’s sambadrome. A picture of him being snubbed by a top samba singer went viral on Brazilian social media channels Sunday.

Later Doria used Twitter to say he was just being polite when he tried to shake hands and take photos with singer Zeca Pagodinho, who is also a friend of da Silva’s.

Other samba schools had a broader, but also political theme.

Paraiso do Tuiuti featured plastic ducks manipulated by puppeteers, in a reference to a giant plastic duck used by conservatives to complain about Brazil’s high taxes during demonstrations two years ago pushing for the impeachment of then President Dilma Rousseff. The group’s float also had a vampire wearing the presidential sash under several false dollar bills.

Two years ago, a powerful industrial lobby organization used a giant plastic duck in big demonstrations to push for the impeachment of former President Dilma Rousseff.

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