A dancer performs during the rehearsal of the Mocidade
Independente Samba school. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares
Carnival got under way across Brazil interspersed with
simmering antigovernment protests and alongside preparations in
12 cities for the upcoming soccer World Cup.
The festivities, which each year rouse millions to revel in
nearly a week of parades and block parties, are the first
since a series of mass demonstrations last June, when
Brazilians took to the streets to decry rising prices, a
sluggish economy, poor public services and corruption.
Although those protests have ebbed, smaller antigovernment
groups have continued to agitate in major cities, sometimes
clashing with police.
In Rio de Janeiro, home to Brazil's best-known Carnival
festivities, activists in recent days have been rallying
members on social media to remind revelers of the issues that
riled so many during the earlier demonstrations.
While they are unlikely to spoil the occasion for the nearly
5 million partiers expected, protests would provide a novel
counterpoint to the gaiety, more traditionally marked by mass
debauchery, litter-strewn streets and occasional vandalism.
Last year's demonstrators successfully used a widely watched
warmup tournament for the World Cup as a stage to contrast
the billions spent on the soccer event and the 2016 Rio
Olympics with Brazil's feeble investment in public services.
With the World Cup itself starting June 12, activists are
eager to rekindle the anger and angst. "Revelers unite!"
wrote one in an online manifesto for a group dubbed "Occupy
Carnival," whose aim is to "contaminate Carnival with the
spirit of popular protest."
Rio and other major cities are well accustomed to activities
of any stripe during the festival - from good-humored parades
by transvestites to swarms of beachcombing bandits.
The Rio state government said it would deploy nearly 17,000
police officers, 16 percent more than it did last year.
Earlier this week, the government showed off new riot gear
and body armor that officers will be donning for any unrest.
On Friday morning, shopkeepers in Ipanema, a beachside Rio
district popular with tourists, had already boarded up
windows to protect their inventory. In Salvador, the
northeastern city where throngs follow massive mobile stages
along 25 kilometers of closed avenues, local media broadcast
a smartphone video of a group of revelers beating a suspected
Meanwhile, authorities in the dozen host cities for the
upcoming soccer games are scrambling to finish stadiums,
public works and other preparations. In Rio, where officials
recently demolished an elevated highway and rerouted much of
the traffic across the city center to make way for new
infrastructure, locals were anticipating worse-than-usual
Still, the overall atmosphere is expected to remain festive
throughout Carnival, a tradition whose history lies in a
final binge of sin before the austere Catholic season of
Lent. Beer and liquor advertisements began blanketing the
city in recent days, while government workers staffed stands
to hand out free condoms.
On Friday morning, Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes relinquished the
key of the city to Rei Momo, the figurehead king of a
celebration taken so seriously in Brazil that many businesses
close. The stock exchange in São Paulo, the country's biggest
city and financial capital, halts trading during the event
from Monday through mid-day Wednesday, Carnival's traditional