How Brazilians are dancing away their troubles at Carnival parties

Amid a lacklustre economy, a massive corruption investigation and increasing political polarisation, Brazilians let off steam on Saturday during the first full day of Carnival, a holiday long considered a safety valve for social and political tensions.

Often known for elaborate — or skimpy — costumes and intense samba competitions, Carnival celebrations also frequently take on serious subjects. This year, for instance, women’s groups are highlighting the sexual harassment and unwelcome touching that many face during the celebrations and throughout the year on Brazil’s streets. Others have called attention to housing shortages or are criticizing politicians who have been accused of corruption.

Brazil has recently emerged from one of the worst recessions in its modern history, and the largest corruption.

But many also see Carnival as a time to put those weighty issues aside. On Saturday, reveler Dilene Monteiro attended a Sao Paulo Carnival street party, known as a bloco, in the hopes of forgetting the financial difficulties of the past year. “This is a moment to release all the energy of 2017, which wasn’t great,” said the 52-year-old psychologist.

Brazil has recently emerged from one of the worst recessions in its modern history, and the largest corruption investigation in Latin America has resulted in the prosecution and jailing of many of its business and political leaders, decimating its political class and undermining faith in its institutions.

The deep divide was reflected in plans for dueling blocos this year.

That has led to deep political polarisation and even the rise of radicalism ahead of this year’s elections. Presidential preference polls give a lead to former President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who has been convicted on corruption charges, but about whom Brazilians are split: About half want to see him in power again, while half want to see him in jail. In second place is far-right congressman Jair Bolsonaro, who glorifies the country’s 1964-1985 dictatorship and has been ordered to pay fines for offensive comments.

The deep divide was reflected in plans for dueling blocos this year. A group called Right Sao Paulo planned a party named after a notorious organ of repression of the country’s former military regime, known as the Department of Political and Social Order, or DOPS. Others responded by planning parties that would denounce the regime.

In the end, a judge ruled that the Bloco Basement of the DOPS 2018 could not appear in public. Rio de Janeiro, meanwhile, is experiencing a wave of violence, as drug gangs battle it out on the streets, often killing innocent passers-by with stray bullets. Authorities there are putting 17,000 security forces on the streets during its world-famous celebrations. All these troubles make Carnival even more important, said Hector Batelli.

“Carnival transcends politics — it’s (a celebration) of the Brazilian people,” said the 30-year-old lawyer, enjoying a Bollywood-themed bloco in Sao Paulo. “So we put aside politics to have a party, to celebrate.” For Mariana Leao Zampier, Carnival might even be a way to mend an increasingly fractured society. “At least for Carnival, you have everyone on the same rhythm,” said the 35-year-old, who is unemployed.

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