After two years of absence, the Rio Carnival returns

After two years of agonizing absence due to Covid-19, Rio de Janeiro returns overnight from Friday to Saturday with its carnival, glitter, feathers and joy as well as political messages.

Eight of the 12 schools that will parade along a 700-meter-long street in the Sambadrome on two nights from Friday to Sunday have chosen their theme this year against racism and the African roots of samba.

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The third samba school parading in the early hours of Saturday, Salguero with about 3,000 dancers and percussionists performed his punch-shaped show, “The Resistance,” inspired by the “Black Lives Matter” protest movement that rocked the United States.

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In figurative floats as high as the multi-storey buildings, dancers swayed to the frantic beat of drums in front of banners: “Freedom comes from blacks” or “Justice” and “Inclusion.”

“This year we are talking about the resistance and the struggle of blacks,” Claudia Nascimento, 39, a money exchanger who marched with Salguero, told AFP.

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“Racism is more humiliating because it comes from the top,” she said, referring to the far-right president known for his racist outbursts.

After all this tragedy, we must celebrate life.

75,000 spectators and the millions of Brazilians who traditionally stayed in front of their televisions all night were deprived of Carnival in 2021 when COVID-19 killed 3,000 people a day in Brazil, compared to 100 today.

Covid has made Brazil the second deadliest country in the world after the United States, killing more than 660,000 people. Sambadrome has been converted into a vaccination center.

The abolition of the carnival was a national drama by Brazilians, as is the DNA of an entire people crazy for samba.

“After all this tragedy, we have to celebrate life,” said dancer from the premiere school of the show, Imperatres, Thelma Fonseca, 43, with a bright smile and a shining outfit.

This logistic employee adds, “We have been waiting for this carnival for two years. Our school is celebrating, and we are very happy.”

However, the 2022 edition is two months behind schedule, with the Omicron variant causing the authorities and organizers in cold sweats, who preferred to postpone the gigantic party.

The party that everyone was waiting for was bereaved by the death of an 11-year-old girl on Friday, who was crushed by a tank two days earlier at the exit of the sampdrome.

On Wednesday, the mayor of Rio, Eduardo Paes, rejoiced, saying, “Without Carnival, it wouldn’t be Rio de Janeiro,” declaring the opening of “the biggest show on Earth.”

Aside from the jubilation, the carnival brings windfall to the “wonderful city”, providing 45,000 jobs and 4 billion reais (about 800 million euros) in income.

More than 2 million tourists in 2020

During the last edition, in 2020, Rio received more than 2.1 million tourists. This year, even if there are fewer foreigners, the hotel industry, which has been devastated by the Covid virus, is pleased with an occupancy rate of 85%.

Eduardo Paes is a big fan of Carnival, unlike his predecessor, Evangelist priest Marcelo Crivella, who hated this pagan celebration with his half-naked dancers.

Close to those evangelicals who favored his rise to power, President Jair Bolsonaro does not like carnival either. This makes it good.

In the bays of spectators, some displayed large yellow tarps with the portrait of the gagged president on top of which someone wrote “Immediately!” (“the outside!”).

“The carnival is a political and anti-fascist demonstration,” said Nairobi Koelu, a 43-year-old oil official who took part in the rally.

“After two years of isolation (for this carnival) it has a special taste, the taste of the victory of science that developed a vaccine against the virus and the hope of a change of government in this election year,” she explains, referring to the October presidential election in which Bolsonaro will try to be re-elected.

At the end of the two nights of celebration, the title of Champion and the glory accompanying it will be awarded to one of the 12 samba schools by a jury that decides nine criteria.

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