RIO DE JANEIRO – Rio de Janeiro has postponed its annual Carnival parade for 2021, declaring on Thursday evening that the global spectacle cannot take place in February as Brazil remains vulnerable to the pandemic.
The League of Samba Schools in Rio, LIESA, announced that the spread of the coronavirus has made it impossible to safely hold the traditional parades, which are a cultural mainstay and a source of livelihood for many.
“Carnival is a party that many humble workers depend on. The samba schools are community institutions and the parades are just a detail of it all, ”said Luiz Antonio Simas, a historian who specializes in Rio’s Carnival, in an interview. “An entire cultural and productive chain has been disrupted by COVID.”
Rio City Hall has not yet announced a decision on the Carnival street festivals, which are also held across the city. However, the Tourism Promotion Agency said in a statement to The Associated Press on Sept. 17 that without a coronavirus vaccine, it is uncertain when major public events can resume.
Brazil’s first confirmed coronavirus case was February 26, one day after this year’s Carnival ended. As the number of infections increased, the samba schools that took part in the glitzy annual parade halted preparations for the 2021 event. Thursday’s announcement cleared the cloud of uncertainty that hung over the city – one of the worst from the pandemic in Brazil concerned.
Almost all of the samba schools in Rio are closely associated with working class communities. Their processions include elaborate floats accompanied by tireless drummers and costumed dancers who sing loudly to impress a jury. Tens of thousands of spectators grab the grandstands of the arena known as the Sambadrome while tens of thousands watch on television.
Before schools competed with each other in the 1930s, the carnival was celebrated in dance halls and indiscriminately in the streets, Simas said. The parades took place in the Sambadrome in the 1980s and have become Rio’s epitome of Carnival.
The immense amount of work involved in each show has already been hampered by the gathering restrictions imposed by Rio’s governor in March. Despite these measures, the Rio metropolitan area, home to 13 million people, has so far recorded more than 15,000 deaths from COVID-19.
Under the stands of the Sambadrome, the city created a homeless shelter for the vulnerable population during the pandemic.
The samba schools suspended building floats, sewing costumes, dance rehearsals and social projects. Mangueira School’s program in the favela near downtown Rio, which teaches children to play music – keeps them away from crime and cultivates the school’s future drummers – has not held a class since March.
The pulse of entire suburbs of Rio such as Nilopolis, whose 160,000 residents cheer the Beija Flor samba school, has faded, said Simas.
Some artists resorted to doing odd jobs and performing. Diogo Jesús, the main dancer who is referred to as the “master of ceremonies” in the Mocidade school, could not make rent from private events without his income. He drove for Uber and sewed face masks to sell at a fair.
“It was a blow. We live Carnival all year round, and many people realized that everything would no longer get sick or depressed, ”said Jesus in an interview in his home in Madureira, a neighborhood in the north of Rio. “Carnival is our life.”
The last year Rio’s carnival was suspended was in 1912 after the Foreign Minister’s death. According to Luís Cláudio Villafañe, diplomat and author of the book “The Day They Delayed Carnival,” the mayor of Rio, the then Brazilian capital, postponed all licenses for the popular dance associations’ carnival parties for two months. The mayor also spoke out against unregulated celebrations, but many Rio residents celebrated in the streets anyway.
The night owls were not deterred in the Second World War. And they flocked to the streets every year for more than two decades of military dictatorship, until 1985 when government censors checked costumes, floats, and lyrics.
Then came the coronavirus.
“We have to wait for the coming months to define whether there will be a vaccine or not and when there will be a vaccination,” LIESA’s President Jorge Castanheira told reporters in Rio on Thursday. “We don’t have the security to set an appointment.”
The 2020 coronavirus has already forced Rio City Hall to abandon traditional plans for its second largest party, New Year’s Eve, which attracts millions of people to the dazzling fireworks display on Copacabana Beach. Earlier this month, the city’s tourism promotion agency, Riotur, announced that major tourist attractions would instead host light and music shows to be broadcast over the internet.
Delaying the Mardi Gras parade will deprive the state of Rio of much-needed tourism revenue. In 2020, the carnival drew 2.1 million visitors and generated 4 billion reais ($ 725 million) in economic activity, according to Riotur. A statement by the agency on Thursday provided no further clarification about the fate of the Carnival street parties.
Some parties are small – one, for example, including a few dozen dog owners who display their pets in wigs or funny hats. But most have amps that make music for thousands of people who dance, kiss, and drink alcohol. The largest has more than two million party-goers.
Rita Fernandes, president of Os Blocos da Sebastiana, said her club had already canceled its eleven street parties that were attended by 1.5 million revelers. Most of the other groups will follow, she said.
“We cannot be irresponsible and bring the crowd onto the streets,” she said, pointing to the second wave of contagion in Europe.
After several weeks of declining daily infections, Rio authorities have begun expressing concerns about an increase. Public spaces such as beaches have been overcrowded in violation of pandemic restrictions.
A drummer at Mangueira’s samba school, Laudo Braz Neto, said the children he tutored prior to the pandemic were listless and he knows there is no way to have carnival without being able to gather safely.
“Carnival will only really take place if the whole world can travel. It’s a spectacle that the world sees, that brings income and movement here, ”he said. “I have no hope for 2021.”
Associated Press video journalist Diarlei Rodrigues contributed to this report.