By Leonardo Benassatto and Sebastian Rocandio
RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) – Brazil’s top samba “schools” have peppered the country’s annual carnival celebrations with a sizzling fusion of music, dance and costumes, and plenty of jabs at far-right President Jair Bolsonaro.
The last six of Rio de Janeiro’s 13 top samba schools took to the city’s “sambodromo”, or Sambadrome for the second official day of festivities on Monday. Hundreds of colorfully dressed and scantily clad dancers and musicians paraded well into Tuesday morning behind huge, elaborate floats designed around a broad theme.
Bolsonaro, who campaigned on a law and order platform, lashed out on Tuesday at the Folha de S.Paulo newspaper for a front-page photo of Jesus being beaten by riot police, a scene in the famed Mangueira samba school’s parade.
Mangueira took aim at the rise in right-wing religious fervor in Brazil and a surge in police violence, in Rio’s slums in particular, in Bolsonaro’s first 14 months in office.
The crucified Christ on one float had bullet holes instead of spear wounds.
“They are looking for an image in Rio to attack me,” Bolsonaro said of the photo in a video posted on social media, in which he criticized Mangueira’s parade on Sunday for disrespecting religion.
Mangueira’s carnival theme song included a line about there being “No messiah with a gun in his hand.” It referred to Bolsonaro, whose middle name is Messias and who advocates more widespread gun ownership.
Other parades also took aim at Bolsonaro.
Brazilian actor and comedian Marcelo Adnet dressed up as Bolsonaro, mockingly doing push ups, saluting and firing an imaginary gun with his fingers, all of which the former army captain has done in public during his presidency.
The Sao Clemente float also displayed placards with the words “It’s OK?!”, a popular Bolsonaro phrase, and “It was Leonardo di Caprio”, a reference to Bolsonaro blaming the Hollywood actor for the Amazon rainforest fires last year.
Since Bolsonaro took office in January 2019, Brazilians have been sharply divided over his rule, with supporters crediting him for a rapid drop in violent crime and an improving economy. Critics, meanwhile, have denounced Bolsonaro for racism, sexism and failing to protect the environment.
The costumes, floats and choreography of Rio’s samba school may change, but they are always sparkling and spectacular, often taking all year and over $2 million to put together.
Each year Brazil’s top 13 samba schools parade through the Sambadrome in front of up to 90,000 locals, tourists and VIPs celebrating carnival in the stadium designed by revered architect Oscar Niemeyer.
(Reporting by Leonardo Benassatto and Sebastian Rocandio in Rio de Janeiro, with additional reporting by Anthony Boadle; Writing by Jamie McGeever; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama and Tom Brown)