The mayor of Rio de Janeiro says he will cut public funding for samba schools. These are now threatening to cancel Carnival. There are accusations that this is exactly what the city's evangelical mayor wants.
Rio de Janeiro without Carnival? Unimaginable! But Rio's city hall and its revelers are currently at odds: Mayor Marcelo Crivella has announced he intends to slash public funding for the event by half. He said the city will be transferring only 12 million reals (3.3 million euros, $3.6 million) to the so-called "special group" of Rio's 12 largest samba schools.
At the same time, he announced that clubs would be financially compensated with money from the tourism budget. But the association of the twelve largest schools, LIESA, released a statement saying that the event would have to go on without them should public funding be cut.
A dubious deal
City hall has said that Mayor Crivella wants to invest the money in kindergartens instead. The Brazilian daily newspaper O Globo has written that investment is to double in that sector. But others beyond the directly affected samba schools have warned that far more than 12 million reals is at stake if Carnival 2018 is actually cancelled.
Many of the city's some 70 smaller samba schools have also complained of inadequate funding. They say that so far only 80 percent of their promised funds have been paid out, and that they are already halting preparations because many vendors are refusing to extend credit after having heard the mayor's announcement.
Empty Carnival coffers
Official Carnival groups have already had to make do with smaller budgets over the past several years. First, in 2016, the state of Rio de Janeiro cut the 6 million reals it had traditionally allotted for Carnival. Then private sponsors throughout the country cut their own Carnival financing due to Brazil's deteriorating economic situation.
Nevertheless, Carnival 2017 was a success: According to the city's tourism office, Riotur, the event drew some 6 million people out onto the streets - more than 1 million of them tourists. Riotur estimated that the event generated some 3 billion reals in revenue. "One has to ask if he (Crivella) is unaware of that number," said Cristina Fritsch, chairwoman of the Association of Brazilian Travel Agents in Rio de Janeiro (ABAV-RJ), "or if there are religious motives behind the move."
Rise of the evangelicals
The presumption that Mayor Crivella rejects Carnival on religious grounds is nothing new. He is a bishop in the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God (IURD), an influential Pentecostal church in the center of Rio de Janeiro. Evangelical congregations hold their members to a strict puritan lifestyle. Such organizations have helped a large number of people find their way into, or back into, an orderly and often successful life.
Donations have enabled these free churches to develop into billion-dollar associations in many countries throughout the Americas. The IURD, for instance, operates Brazil's second largest television network. Its founder, Edir Macedo, was listed among Brazil's 49 USD billionaires by the US magazine Forbes in 2017.
Meanwhile, one in five Brazilians claims to be a member of a Pentecostal church. Many evangelical leaders, inspired by their missionary success, have gone into politics. So far they have been successful on the legislative level, winning seats in national, state and local parliaments throughout the country.
Marcelo Crivella became the first evangelical to win an important executive post in Brazil when he was elected mayor of Rio. He won the direct election in Brazil's second largest city with almost 60 percent of the vote. "He did not make his faith a central aspect of his election campaign," as anthropologist Christina Vital, who has written a book on the topic, told DW. "But that was because he was hoping to reach non-evangelical voters."
Crivella and Carnival
In the meantime, doubts are growing as to whether he feels any responsibility toward the broad swath of the population that put him in office. Last February he affronted many Cariocas, as Rio's residents are called, when he refused to appear at the traditional ceremony in which the mayor hands over the symbolic keys to the city to revelers. ABAV-RJ Chairwoman Fritsch called the move "an insult to the entire population."
"It is a traditional ceremony; it has nothing to do with whether one likes Carnival or not," she added.
In May, Crivella issued a decree stating that his cabinet would be responsible for decisions on the issuing of permits for events expecting 1,000 or more visitors. Until then, that decision had fallen to Riotur, and that had apparently functioned quite well: "If all of the documents were in order, it took an average of three days to get approval," as Alan Sant'anna, chairman of the local event association, told O Globo. "The new process has a 30-day timetable." Moreover, people are concerned that such decisions could be made according to political or religious motivations.
The association of samba schools did not mince words when it accused Mayor Crivella of going back on his word. The LIESA statement cited Crivella's campaign promise to ensure that samba-school funding would remain at 2016 levels, and recalled that he even floated the idea of increasing the budget to expand the size of the event.
It is quite possible that Crivella is now using the situation to give a nod to his evangelical supporters. But the city's major samba schools have not given up hope. The above-cited statement also said: "In light of the enormous economic and financial benefits of the event, the creation of jobs and income, as well as the acclaim that it brings in terms of Rio de Janeiro's public image," the group expects that that solutions to the impasse can be found in common dialogue with city hall.