Opinion, by Michael Royster

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – This year, as last year, the Rio de Janeiro Carnival kept itself in the headlines, as the rest of the country was kept in the background by everyone except the main stream media that, against all evidence to the contrary, want us to believe there is really Carnival in São Paulo.

Michael Royster, aka The Curmudgeon.
Michael Royster, aka The Curmudgeon.

This year’s meme theme, even more than last year, was Rio’s Mayor Crivella. On Sunday night, as the Samba Schools were about to parade down the Sambódromo, Hizzoner did a bunk to Europe, heading for Frankfurt, Vienna and Stockholm.

His purported mission? To visit the European Space Agency and companies that supply it, so as to research the latest hi-tech gadgets for security. Perhaps Crivella was right—the increased violence during Cariaval shows that Rio certainly needs more security.

The problem, of course, is that under the Federal Constitution, public security is the responsibility of the State and Federal governments, not municipal governments. The local Guarda Municipal can not carry weapons nor can they investigate crimes; their remit is to enforce regulations about the use of public areas, such as urinating or selling counterfeit watches on sidewalks.

Notwithstanding his formal excuse, the truth is that, as a person, Mr. Crivella detests Carnival. His religion (he’s a bishop in a major evangelical sect) officially believes that most of Carnival is devil worship, and that participating in the pre-Lenten “farewell to the flesh” is utterly sinful.

So, having this in mind, last year he simply stayed indoors during Carnival, not venturing out, and not participating in any of the traditional ceremonies, including the handing over the keys to the city to the Rei Momo, a corpulent figure elected each year to symbolize the flesh to which Cariocas are saying “farewell”.

This year, not content with self-imposed house arrest, Mayor Crivella found inspiration in the folkloric ultimatum that says about a place: “Love it or leave it!” Quite literally, the Mayor left town.

What Hizzoner missed while he was gone — we’re pretty sure the TV Globo broadcasts of the Samba School Parades didn’t reach Mitteleuropa — was that he was the main subject of criticism by Rio’s most popular Samba School (Mangueira) and by the School that eventually came second (Paraíso do Tuiuti).

The real reason for this criticism was that Crivella had “halved” municipal funding of the Samba School parades from R$2 million to R$1 million — although that amount is precisely what had been allocated for years until Crivella’s predecessor Mayor Eduardo Paes doubled the booty in 2016 for electoral reasons.

Beija Flor, this year’s winning School, was critical of corruption in Brazil and Rio, and it was a hugely popular choice. Paraiso do Tuiuti came an unexpectedly close second, lifted by its criticism of Brazil’s heritage of slavery and racism, and its float featuring a large bare butt with “Crivella” stencilled on it.

Usually, the people’s choices for winners do not win the official judges’ votes; this year, however, they did indeed win. There is a centuries-old Latin phrase—Vox Populi, Vox Dei—that Crivella ought to consider carefully before next year’s Carnaval.

Otherwise, who knows? It has been suggested that the Rei Momo, after having been handed the keys to the city, should decide to change all the locks and not let Mayor Crivella back in.

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