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The show must not go on for Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival

. Jan 26, 2021
The show must not go on for Rio de Janeiro's Carnival Rio de Janeiro has canceled carnival celebrations this year. Photo: T photography/Shutterstock

Symbolizing a final period of festivity before the Christian season of Lent, this year’s carnival celebrations in Brazil and around the world were originally scheduled to take place between February 13 and 16. However, thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, all of Brazil’s big carnival destinations have suspended their celebrations. Some have pushed the festival back until the middle of the year, while others are hesitant to schedule a new date until vaccination coverage in Brazil reaches a satisfactory level.

In the case of Rio de Janeiro, home to the world’s most famous carnival parades which attract millions of people each year, the celebrations had initially been delayed until July.

However, the city’s new mayor, Eduardo Paes, has ruled out this possibility.

</p> <p>In a sequence of social media posts, Mr. Paes said it would be &#8220;impossible&#8221; to prepare the city for an out-of-season carnival, even with <a href="https://brazilian.report/power/2021/01/22/facing-shortages-brazil-could-turn-russia-sputnik-v-vaccine/">coronavirus vaccination</a> in progress.</p> <p>“I&#8217;ve never hid my passion for Carnival and the clear view I have of the economic importance for this cultural manifestation for our city. However, it seems senseless to imagine at this point that we would be able to hold carnival in July,&#8221; he stressed.</p> <p>This means that after canceling its traditional New Year&#8217;s Eve fireworks display at Copacabana beach, Rio de Janeiro&#8217;s Carnival will not go ahead for the first time in over 100 years. In 1912, the celebration <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2020/02/24/brazilian-carnival-postponed-baron-rio-branco-death-1912/">was postponed</a> due to the period of mourning after the death of the Baron of Rio Branco, but revelers circumvented the rules and organized <em>two</em> carnivals instead.</p> <div class="flourish-embed flourish-chart" data-src="visualisation/2641192"><script src="https://public.flourish.studio/resources/embed.js"></script></div> <h2>Rio&#8217;s carnival cash cow</h2> <p>According to the current Mayor of Rio de Janeiro, once the population is vaccinated, Carnival will return in 2022. Eduardo Paes also stated that he intends on launching an aid initiative to support those who work directly in the carnival industry, who will be left without income this year.</p> <p>Last year, Rio de Janeiro&#8217;s Carnival attracted a record <a href="https://brazilian.report/society/2020/02/22/brazil-2020-carnival-in-numbers/">10 million people</a> to the city&#8217;s streets, 2.1 million of whom were tourists. In street parades alone, there were a total of 7 million revelers. As a consequence, Rio received BRL 4 billion (USD 750 million) in revenue and hotel occupancy hit 93 percent.</p> <p>Indeed, taking part in Rio de Janeiro&#8217;s street parades — known as &#8220;blocos&#8221; — is completely free, but those who do attend invariably end up spending a large amount of money on costumes, accessories, food and drink, and transport. Tourists are also faced with sky-high rates for bus and air travel, as well as with accommodation. The cost is even steeper for those who take part in private parties or attend the large samba school parades at the Sambadrome in Sapucaí.</p> <p>In recent years, Carnival has brought in more money than Christmas and New Year for a variety of segments, including the tourism industry.</p> <p>The <a href="https://brazilian.report/podcast/2019/03/06/50-business-carnival-rio/">carnival industry</a> itself directly and indirectly employs 250,000 people in Rio de Janeiro alone, according to the state government. Besides the usual suspects of hotels and travel companies, sectors such as entertainment, audiovisual, printing, publishing, alcohol, and musical instruments also see considerable upticks as Carnival approaches.&nbsp;</p> <figure class="wp-block-image size-large"><img loading="lazy" width="1000" height="664" src="https://brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/shutterstock_340648505.jpg" alt="The Stairway Selaron in Lapa, Rio de Janeiro" class="wp-image-55652" srcset="https://cdn-statics.brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/shutterstock_340648505.jpg 1000w, https://cdn-statics.brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/shutterstock_340648505-300x199.jpg 300w, https://cdn-statics.brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/shutterstock_340648505-768x510.jpg 768w, https://cdn-statics.brazilian.report/wp-content/uploads/2021/01/shutterstock_340648505-600x398.jpg 600w" sizes="(max-width: 1000px) 100vw, 1000px" /><figcaption>The Stairway Selaron in Lapa, Rio de Janeiro. Photo: byvalet/Shutterstock</figcaption></figure> <h2>Uncertain future in Brazil&#8217;s samba schools</h2> <p>At the center of Rio de Janeiro&#8217;s lavish carnival parades are the city&#8217;s samba schools — organizations which plan, orchestrate, and perform the show itself, competing against one another for the title of best in show. Since the arrival of the coronavirus pandemic, these schools have been forced to fight for their own survival.</p> <p>In regular years, around 5,000 people from different professions — among them metal workers, designers, artists, dressmakers, cleaners, security guards, and musicians — work at the headquarters of Rio de Janeiro&#8217;s samba schools. The 13 organizations in the top division of Rio&#8217;s carnival competition have an average of 3,500 members each.</p> <p>However, despite the distress and fears over the cancelation of Carnival 2021, the majority of samba school members agree with the decision to cancel this year&#8217;s parade.</p> <p>Rio de Janeiro&#8217;s Independent Samba School League (LIESA), in charge of organizing the competition, stated that it &#8220;supports and understands the decision [to cancel Carnival], due to the general increase in Covid-19 cases and the current moment related to uncertainty regarding time it will take to vaccinate and immunize the population.&#8221;</p> <p>Meanwhile, the Rio de Janeiro Street Blocos Association said it was &#8220;relieved&#8221; by Mayor Paes&#8217; decision to definitively cancel this year&#8217;s Carnival.</p> <p>The state of Rio de Janeiro had vaccinated over 117,000 people as of Tuesday afternoon, less than 1 percent of its 17 million residents.

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Renato Alves

Renato Alves is a Brazilian journalist who has worked for Correio Braziliense and Crusoé.

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