Rio carnival returns, ‘celebrating life and democracy’ 

Rio carnival returns, ‘celebrating life and democracy’ 

Rio carnival returns, ‘celebrating life and democracy’

Rio de Janeiro’s mayor declared the world’s biggest carnival officially open on Feb. 17 for the first full-scale edition in three years, calling it a celebration of life and democracy after the turmoil of COVID-19 and Brazil’s bitterly divisive elections.

Embracing the party spirit in a Panama hat, a grinning Mayor Eduardo Paes symbolically handed the key to the city to “King Momo,” the jovial “monarch” who will “rule” Rio for the four-day free-for-all.

“It is with great happiness, celebrating life, celebrating democracy, that I have the honor of handing the keys to the city to King Momo,” said the mayor, an avowed carnival lover, as he handed the giant key to the “king,” a carnival fanatic chosen in a sort of pageant for his charisma, party spirit and samba skills.

Rio is ready to party, after two carnivals disrupted by the pandemic and a polarizing presidential election in October, in which veteran leftist Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva ousted incumbent Jair Bolsonaro, an ultra-conservative carnival critic accused of authoritarian tendencies, who had regularly come in for protests and mockery during the festivities.

In reality, carnival has been under way for weeks in the iconic beach city, with massive street parties known as “blocos.”    

Rio held a reduced version of carnival last year, postponed by two months because of the pandemic, which has claimed nearly 700,000 lives in Brazil, and minus the street parties.

This year, the full-on festival is back. The samba schools are racing to put the finishing touches on the all-night spectacle.“We always give it everything we’ve got.

We work until dawn, we sleep right here, we have no social lives. Whatever it takes to bring people that happiness on carnival day,” said Rogerio Sampaio, 54, a prop master at the Viradouro samba school.

Officials are expecting a sold-out crowd of more than 70,000 people each night at the “Sambadrome,” the avenue-turned-stadium where the 12 topflight samba schools will compete for the coveted title of parade champions. 

Millions more people will be watching on live TV.

And more than five million are expected for the hundreds of street parties.