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By Chesney Hearst, Senior Contributing Reporter

RIO DE JANEIRO, BRAZIL – On the afternoon of Wednesday, February 18th, following a live tally of the votes, judges declared samba school Beija-Flor de Nilópolis the 2015 Carnival Champion, marking the school’s thirteenth Carnival title. However controversy arose when reports stated that the parade was partly funded by groups allegedly connected to the African country of Equatorial Guinea.

Rio de Janeiro, Brazil News, Brazil,  Carnival 2015, Carnival Championship, Special Group, Samba Competition, Beija-Flor, Controversy, Equatorial Guinea
Samba school Beija-Flor’s controversial 2015 Carnival plot celebrated the country and the people of Equatorial Guinea, photo by Tata Barreto/Riotur.

For the win this year, Beija-Flor paraded to the enredo (theme), “Um griô conta a história: Um olhar sobre a África e o despontar da Guiné Equatorial. Caminhemos sobre a trilha de nossa felicidade” (A griot [a West African storyteller] tells the story: A look at Africa and the emergence of Equatorial Guinea. Let us walk on the path of our happiness).

The issue for many is that Equatorial Guinea is led by dictator Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo, who seized power of the country in a bloody 1979 coup. Equatorial Guinea is an oil-rich nation and one of the most heavily criticized governments in its region.

Defending Beija-Flor’s theme/plot and funding for this year’s parade following the announcement of their win, the school’s artistic director Fran Sérgio Oliveira told O Globo; “People group the plot with politics, which is nonsense. Additionally, the people of Equatorial Guinea are passionate about their president. Is it a dictatorship? It is. But it’s beneficial to the population.”

During the tallying of the votes, it was a close race between Beija-Flor and nine-time Carnival Champion Salgueiro. In the end, Beija-Flor edged out Salguiero by 0.4 points in overall scoring.

Samba school Mocidade, thought by many to be one of the top schools this year, placed 7th overall while Portela, also thought to be a major contender ranked 5th. Samba school Viradouro could not maintain their spot in the Special Group this year, ranking last in 12th place. They will move back into the Série A group for the 2016 competition.

The top six schools; Beija-Flor, Salgueiro, Grande Rio, Unidos da Tijuca, Portela, and Imperatriz, will parade again on Saturday, February 21st as part of the Champions Parade.

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