Opinion by Michael Royster
RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – Marcello Crivella took office as Mayor of Rio around eighteen months ago. One of his first official acts (actually an omission) was to leave Rio during Carnival 2017. As one might expect, he got a lot of (undeserved) bad press for doing that.
For Carnival 2018, he’s upped the ante. Last week he announced he would cut in half the amount of funding the City of Rio gives the Samba Schools, those community organizations that annually encourage up to 4,000 people (each) to wear outlandish costumes and parade down the Sambadrome for 80 minutes, singing repetitive “sambas” (actually they’re “marchas”) while squeezed between six or seven humongous, inherently unstable, floats.
As his readers have by now figured out, the Curmudgeon does not like Rio’s Carnival Parade. His reasons are largely aesthetic — he regards the “sambas” as anaesthetic and soporific, and indeed has fallen asleep while watching a Sambadrome parade from front-row box seats.
But there’s another reason he dislikes Carnival — it is an integral part of an immense money-laundering exercise, run by “bicheiros”, Rio’s illegal numbers racketeers. All the major “schools” are run by these criminals, who have gotten filthy rich fleecing the poorest people of Rio out of their hard-earned Reais through the “jogo do bicho”.
The bicheiros control LIESA, the organizing entity overseeing Rio’s Carnival parade, like FIFA does football and IOC does the Olympics. Rio’s City Hall has annually siphoned off millions of taxpayer dollars and put them in the hands of LIESA, which distributes this windfall according to its own rules (don’t ask).
Put another way, every year the City of Rio de Janeiro willingly and voluntarily pays big money to notorious criminals, and never, ever, asks what is done with it.
That is not right.
The Mayor’s proposal — to halve the funding and use the other half on local day-care centers — is an excellent start, but what the Curmudgeon would really like to see is no government funding whatsoever.
Those there are who claim that would mean the end of Carnival as we know it, but the Curmudgeon disagrees. It might mean fewer schools, it might mean less panes et circenses, but it would not be the end.
Most samba schools already obtain sponsorship from international companies, or from other Brazilian municipalities hoping to promote tourism in their own backyards. The tens of thousands of people who parade pay for their costumes on a lay-away plan, making weekly contributions starting after the end of each Carnival. Television pays LIESA well for the rights to broadcast the parades, and thousands of spectators pay through the nose to watch.
LIESA is already fighting back: a dozen samba schools are pleading poverty and claiming they won’t be able to parade without the money from the City. That claim is a bald-faced lie, as will be proven next February if the Mayor sticks to his guns. Carnival 2018 will proceed as usual, notwithstanding lesser funding.
The Mayor will probably leave town, as will the Curmudgeon.