Brazil eyes cut-price 'Crisis Carnival' amid economic woes

Pheasant feathers from last year’s costumes are being stained and reused. Swarovski stones are out, cheap rocks are in. Imported paints, sequins and buckles have been replaced with local knockoffs.

Brazil’s Carnival, a four-day bacchanal revered as the world’s hottest annual party, is suffering a distinct downgrade this year as the country faces what may be its deepest recession in a century.

 Fewer than half of Rio de Janeiro’s samba schools that plan the parades got the corporate cash that account for up to half of their budgets, according to Liesa, the Carnival association. 

Petroleo Brasileiro, the state oil giant known as Petrobras, says it has cut its Carnival budget by 80%. 

“This is a crisis Carnival,” said Rita Fernandes, head of Sebastiana, which manages 12 informal street parties known as blocos and has also lost some of its sponsors.

About a decade ago, when the oil boom and Brazil’s climb to wealth were taking off, extravagance arrived as an honoured guest at Carnival.

The itsy-bitsy bikinis worn by dancers began to cost up to €9,000 apiece; floats towered five stories. 

But at this year’s Carnival, which begins today, companies are cutting way back. 

Many are opting out of the luxurious VIP booths with massage tables where the likes of Madonna and Will Smith have watched the festivities. 

Coca-Cola confirmed in an e-mailed statement it’s among those reducing their roles.

“It costs a lot to produce and decorate a booth and some companies thought it more convenient to buy some tickets instead, and distribute among clients,” said Alexis de Vaulx, director at Global Marketing e Eventos, which runs a 1,000- square-meter VIP area for executives. 

Guests at his area are plied with Veuve Clicquot and get spa treatments. This year, his company sold the special tickets worth around 5,000 reais (€1,120) to some 35 companies, which give them out to clients.

The Rio city government is trying to make up partly for the lost sponsorships by doubling its funding, boosting the amount it gives to each samba school to about 2 million reais.

Television broadcasting rights, tickets and CD sales bring in about 4 million reais more. 

It can cost as much as 13 million reais to put on a top show, said Decio Bastos, director of Vila Isabel, a school that has won the championship.

“We have zero this year,” said Mr Bastos. Brazil’s crises - recession, corruption and the Zika virus — are so unrelenting that they are common themes in more than 100 samba songs this year. 

One mentions a police officer who became popular after he was seen escorting to prison the heads of some of Brazil’s largest companies, including Petrobras. 

The mood may be of shortages and trouble, but the celebrants refuse to give up. “We cut the second sound truck, or drum core hats,” Ms Fernandes said. “But Carnival will always happen.”



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