Brazil’s Fun-Fest Carnival Also Raises Serious Issues

February 23, 2012 Updated: March 5, 2016

RIO DE JANEIRO—The biggest carnival in the world held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, is officially over, but for many Brazilians the partying will continue until this Sunday.

The five-day mega fun-fest in the “Marvelous City,” officially started on Feb. 17, with the delivery of the city’s key to the Royal Court of Carnival by Rio’s mayor, Eduardo Paes, in a ceremony at the City Palace.

By Saturday morning, a record breaking 2.3 million people had attended the Cordao do Bola Preta carnival band parade, completely filling the sprawling city center, according to military police. About 850,000 tourists had visited the city abuzz with more than 400 street parades.

Thirteen Samba schools participated in the grand parade in Rio’s recently restored Sambadrome. At the end of the event, the Samba school, “Unidos da Tijuca,” was declared the great champion of the Rio de Janeiro 2012 Carnival.

Monday afternoon was highlighted by the newly formed Sargento Pimenta band (Sargent Pepper), that played Beatles’ songs in a Samba rhythm to a crowd of about 60,000 people during a gigantic street block party on Aterro do Flamengo Avenue.

The Bahia Bash

Leading the festival activities in Bahia state was Salvador—Brazil’s third largest city—with about 500,000 revelers pouring into the streets late Thursday, dancing and partying.

There was concern that Brazil’s striking state police force might disrupt the Carnival festivities in Salvador and Rio, but the strikes in those cities were provisionally settled just ahead of the festivities.

The theme for this year’s Carnival in Salvador was “The Carnival Country,” which is the title of a 1931 novel by Jorge Amado, in tribute to the late Bahian author as the city marks the 100th anniversary of his birth, according to Salvador Tourism. 

Mudanca do Garcia, one of the most irreverent ‘blocos’ or organized Carnival groups in Brazil, saw about 20,000 revelers from all walks of life giving vent to their dissatisfaction with Brazilian politics. 

Armed with banners, they reminded everyone of the political scandals and social problems plaguing the country, including unemployment, privatization of hospitals, and low military police wages.

Pernambuco’s Multicultural Carnival

In the capital of Pernambuco state, Recife¾which paid tribute to the singer and composer Alceu Valenca¾there were a total of 325 public shows and about 800 band parades in the streets.

On Saturday morning, despite the rain, the Galo da Madrugada, one of Brazil’s largest block parades, honored the centennial of the composer Luiz Gonzaga, the King of the Baiao popular rhythm from northeastern Brazil—attracting 1.5 million partiers to the streets, according to the Pernambuco Tourism Authority.

Two bands highlighted the Galo Parade: the “Human Rights” band, which is part of a national campaign to combat violence against children and adolescents—launched by National Secretariat for Human Rights—and the “Cleansing in Plateau” band.

Members of the Cleansing band donned the attire of politicians and demanded a needed “housekeeping” in the upper levels of the Brazilian government, according to Brazil’s O Globo newspaper.

In the city of Olinda, Spider-Man climbed the seat of the city government and was received by the mayor, delighting the crowd of onlookers, reported Olinda’s City Hall. 

There was also a traditional parade and gathering of about a hundred giant puppets, created by the artist Silvio Botelho. 

Brasilia and Sao Paulo

In Brasilia, the capital city of Brazil, the carnival band parade Pacotão celebrated the passage of the “Clean Sheet” law by Brazil’s Supreme Court, which prevents convicted politicians from entering the country’s 2012 elections, reported Brazil’s newspaper, Correio Brasiliense.

In Sao Paulo, a Brazilian Samba school paid tribute to the hugely popular former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, 66, with a Carnival parade Saturday extolling his life of struggle and for his ability to overcome great odds. Lula is currently recovering from a medical cancer treatment. 

The judging of the Sao Paulo’s Samba schools was briefly interrupted by a brawl on Tuesday when a man believed to be a member of a losing Samba school jumped the security gates, grabbed the judges’ results, and tore them into pieces, reported the online U.S. news company Global Post.

Riots ensued, with some Samba dancers setting fire to one float and destroying some áreas of the Sambadrome, the Brazilian news site Band reports.

Despite the torn-up results, a new judge’s meeting was held and the Samba team Mocidade Alegre was declared champion of the Sao Paulo Samba Parade.

Just in Rio alone, the Carnival generated about 250,000 jobs and revenues of some $640 million for hotels, bars, and restaurants, according to state officials.