RIO DE JANEIRO – Singing popular songs, members of Rio de Janeiro's samba schools protested Saturday against the mayor's proposal to slash city funds for next year's Carnival.
The demonstration that began outside the city hall came in response to Mayor Marcelo Crivella's decision to cut by half the city's contribution to the annual celebration.
Crivella plans to reduce the city hall's support from $640,000 (2 million reals) to $320,000 (1 million reals) for each school, and says the difference will be spent on resources for children's day care centers.
"We are under budgetary restrictions, which demands austerity and sacrifice from everyone," Crivella told Globo TV earlier in the week. He added that "the beauty of the Carnival is in the samba dancing" rather than the expensive, multistory floats that samba schools build for their parade competition.
The Independent League of Samba Schools responded by saying that next year's Carnival parades "would not be viable" under such cuts.
Dressed in the colors of their groups, about 200 people marched from city hall to the Avenida Marques de Sapucai, also known as the "Sambadrome," where the schools hold their parades. Protesters sang along to the classics of Carnival, closing out their march with "Nao deixe o samba morrer" ("Don't let samba die").
Cid Carvalho, art director for the Beija-Flor school, said the dazzling spectacle of the schools' parades will be hurt and he warned that the communities whose members participate in Carnival — often with costumes donated by the schools — will be the first to suffer from the cuts.
Held every year in the week preceding Ash Wednesday, Carnival is the biggest event in Rio. According to the city's tourism agency, the 2017 Carnival attracted 1.1 million tourists and generated $912 million (3 billion reals) in revenues.
"If you had millions to invest, and got billions in return, why would you stop investing? Why risk those 3 billion?" Carvalho asked.
In office since January, Crivella is far less enthusiastic about the weeklong celebration than former mayors. A gospel singer and retired Pentecostal bishop, Crivella and his Universal Church of the Kingdom of God consider Carnival a "profane party."
Despite his lack of sympathy for the event, Crivella won the support of samba schools in last year's election with promises of increased public spending. He then skipped this year's Carnival, passing on the traditional handing over of the city's key to "Rei Momo," the king of carnal delights.
Subsidies for Carnival had been already in trouble amid Brazil's economic crisis. The city had doubled its contributions in 2016 after the samba schools lost support from the state oil company Petrobras and Rio de Janeiro state, and now Crivella is trying to roll back that measure.
"He wants to give his evangelic community a satisfaction, but he's supposed to represent every citizen of Rio de Janeiro," said protester Veronica Goncalves, a member of Mangueira school.
The city's 13 main samba schools are expecting to schedule a meeting with the mayor next week.
Public opinion is sharply divided. This week, many people sounded off on the Facebook page of the samba schools guild. Most agreed with Crivella and said the samba schools be funded privately.
"We're in a crisis! Only the samba schools have not woken up to our reality yet!" wrote one commenter.