RIO DE JANEIRO – The joyous affair that is the Rio de Janeiro Carnival has wrapped up with a politically charged finale that saw many samba schools putting corruption and violence in the spotlight for the first parade under Brazil’s new far-right president.
The Rio carnival came to an end on its second and final day by highlighting the Latin American nation’s ancestral roots, celebrating historical heroes who society has since silenced, condemning the rampant corruption and endemic extortion among the political class, and by paying homage to Marielle Franco, an activist and openly gay female politician who was shot dead on March 14, 2018.
Two samba schools in particular shone for rebuking the deep socio-political difficulties the country faces, with scores of parliamentarians and members of the congress under investigation for corruption, and a deeply polarized society that sees millions steeped in poverty living in Rio’s favelas, or slum areas.
The Paraiso Tuitui samba school drew inspiration from folklore with the story of a goat who become a lawmaker, a harsh critique of the political mismanagement that has plagued Brazil historically.
One of the oldest samba schools, la Mangueira, focused on voices that history has forgotten.
But the star of the carnival was Franco, whose face was printed onto the flags that some 72,000 spectators waved to pay homage to the activist.
Mangueira celebrated Franco as a heroine who would stay alive thanks to her tireless fight on behalf of minorities and for denouncing the use of force and abuse of security forces operating in favelas.
The Paraiso de Tuitui school made a direct critique of ultra-far-right president Jair Bolsonaro by both placing a goat at the head of the presidential float and inviting revelers to plant flowers instead of bullets in firearms, a nod to Bolsonaro’s arms policy.
The Sao Clemente school got to the heart of the carnival and questioned how the event had been commercialized into a type of “Disneyland” while making a call to get back to carnival’s roots which have since left behind tradition and popular culture in place of exuberance.
La Portela, which is tipped to win the coveted cash prize, dedicated the parade to singer-songwriter Clara Nunes (1942-1983), widely known as the “Queen of Samba.”
The school collaborated with fashion designer Jean Paul Gaultier who created the costumes.
The 14 competing samba schools brought the huge party to a close with revelers dancing and coming together for a night of hedonism and political protest.
The winner of the event will be announced on Ash Wednesday.