Brazilian carnivals have been dealt a heavy blow by the country’s economic crisis. City and state budgets have been slashed while unemployment and crime are soaring.
The highest-profile victim of the economy drive is the iconic Rio Carnival. Last month Mayor Marcelo Crivella warned the top 13 samba schools (equivalent of mas bands) that their funding would be halved. Each group would receive only £250,000.
Funding on that scale is a ‘problem’ that UK mas bands would love to have, but Jorge Castanheira, president of LIESA (Independent League of Samba Schools) pointed out that planning had already started on the basis of 2016’s funding levels. As samba fans protested outside City Hall, Castanheira warned that a 50% cut would make it impossible to hold Carnival next year.
No doubt mindful of the £700 million contribution Rio Carnival makes to the City’s economy, Crivella insisted that a solution would be found, perhaps involving some private funding.
However, critics say that the mayor is swayed by his Christian convictions – he is an evangelical bishop and gospel singer and feels uncomfortable about spending so much money on the hedonistic celebration. He is the first mayor since 1984 to have shunned the Sambódromo parades and has also refused to finance Gay Pride events.
In São Paulo, too, budgets are being drastically pruned and construction of a planned new multipurpose arena at Anhembi has been abandoned. Like Crivella, Mayor João Doria says that less public money will be available for Carnival 2018 and samba schools will have to seek private funding which could prove challenging in the recession.
São Paulo Carnival received $9 million of funding for this year’s festival, but other cities were not so lucky. At least 70 cancelled their celebrations in February, including 29 in the state of Espírito Santo alone.