Brazil's Carnival to Get Underway Amid Rows on Sex and Security

by Medindia Content Team on  February 1, 2008 at 5:13 PM Lifestyle News
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Brazil's famed Carnival is to begin Friday, amid rows over sex and security, and a plea from the government for the nation's festival-goers to take it easy this year.
Brazil's Carnival to Get Underway Amid Rows on Sex and Security
Brazil's Carnival to Get Underway Amid Rows on Sex and Security

The annual event, a glitzy street bash meant to precede the privations of Lent in the Christian calendar, is being billed in Rio de Janeiro -- the epicenter of the celebrations -- as "the biggest public party on earth."

More than 700,000 visitors, including 210,000 foreigners, are expected in the city to watch nearly naked dancing girls and loud drum bands file through the streets. The highlight will be on the nights of Sunday and Monday, when the samba schools parade.

Smaller displays in the cities of Salvador and Recife, and in towns throughout the country, with most of the 190-million-strong population turning out.

While the sweaty collision of flesh and fantasy makes lubricous behaviour a sure bet, authorities this year have taken steps to rein it in.

President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva has publicly urged citizens to party "responsibly" and not to do "anything outside of what they do normally when they have fun."

To back that up, his government has banned the sale of alcohol in the streets and is distributing free 19.5 million condoms to encourage safe sex during Carnival.

The health ministry has boasted that its purchase of one billion of the latex prophylactics last year was the biggest by any state in the world, and a sign of how serious it is in tackling sexually transmitted diseases.

But plans by the city of Recife to also give out morning-after pills hit controversy when the Catholic Church lodged a lawsuit claiming the move promoted sexual intercourse and amounted to free "abortions."

State authorities this week rejected the church's complaint.

But the archbishop at the center of the storm, Jose Cardoso Sobrinho, has threatened excommunication to any church-goers who use the pill.

Federal Health Minister Jose Gomes Temporao accused the church of trying to meddle in "a matter of public health, not religion."

Carnival security is also a major concern in Brazil, which has notoriously high crime rates.

A crisis between the military police service tasked with safeguarding Rio's Carnival and the state government has cast a pall over festivities.

Forty-seven senior officers, including 17 batallion commanders, have resigned in protest of the government's sacking of their chief and nine other top leaders for allowing a demonstration calling for a pay rise in the service.

Although both sides have vowed that security would not be affected, the issue showed no signs of being resolved quickly, and was instead hardening into a standoff.

The public security official at the center of the dispute, Jose Mariano Beltrame, told reporters: "The public can rest assured. Rio has a history of calm Carnivals."

Another controversy that also grabbed headlines was an attempt by one of the 12 samba schools competing in Rio's parades to enter a morbid float representing the victims of the Holocaust, accompanied by a dancer dressed as Adolf Hitler.

The display by the Unidos do Viradouro school -- which featured skeletal model bodies piled on top of each other -- was meant to be "a very respectful" reminder of Nazi atrocities, according to its creator, Paulo Barros.

But after the Jewish Federation of Rio de Janeiro filed a lawsuit, a judge on Thursday banned the float and costume, forcing the school to make last-minute changes.

Much of the behind-the-scenes turmoil has been lost on foreign tourists arriving for Carnival, though Anthony Davis, a 55-year-old Canadian oil industry contractor on Copacabana beach said he was aware of efforts to tamp down on the partying.

"That sucks .... I hate this, that it's getting more restricted every year," he said.

He added, though, that the summer Rio scene -- "the heat, the women, the food, the beaches" -- still easily beat the minus 41 degree Celsius (minus 32 degree Fahrenheit) winter weather back in his home country.

Source: AFP

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