Brazil Carnival kicks off with political divisions in the foreground

RIO DE JANEIRO / SAO PAULO (Reuters) – Brazil's famous carnival really kicked off on Saturday, when millions of revelers in light clothes rushed into the streets, many of whom took the opportunity to parody or comment otherwise the nation's deeply polarized politics.

Drum queen Viviane Araujo of the samba school Mancha Verde performs during the first night of the carnival parade at the Sambadrome in Sao Paulo, Brazil, on February 22, 2020. REUTERS / Amanda Perobelli

Since right-wing president Jair Bolsonaro took office in January 2019, Brazilians have been sharply divided, with supporters blaming the former army captain for a rapid drop in violent crime and an improvement in the military. 39 economy, while its detractors have denounced what they see as racism, sexism and disrespect for the poor.

With a handful of conservative allies, including the evangelical mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Marcelo Crivella, Bolsonaro has shown little interest in carnival and has sometimes spoken out against what he sees as bad behavior during the festivities.

Admittedly, most of the partygoers on Saturday were dressed in distinctly apolitical clothes, ranging from mermaids to cowboy costumes, indicating that the Brazilians focused on the festivities first and politics in second position.

But in the biggest cities, there was no lost love, as many costumes mocked Brazilian leaders.

In the northeastern city of Recife, where one of the country's most famous carnival celebrations takes place, musician Antonio Nobrega dedicated an opening performance to Brazilian artists and journalists. These two groups have repeatedly angered Brazilian political leaders, with politicians often criticizing journalists and newspapers.

The famous samba school of Mangueira, a type of show troupe that spends months preparing elaborate parades for carnival, has already ruffled feathers with plans to cross the legendary Sambodromo from Rio de Janeiro on Sunday evening with a supposed performance beating the police.

Under Bolsonaro, homicide rates in the city dropped, but murders by the police exploded, sparking a major debate over police tactics, particularly in poor and minority communities.

Early Saturday, the Tom Maior samba school paid tribute during their performance to Marielle Franco, a black and lesbian city councilor from Rio de Janeiro whose assassination in 2018 sparked protests across the country.

"I thought it was beautiful, it really moved me," said Renato Santos Aguessy, a 37-year-old schoolteacher who participated. "She left us a legacy of struggle, of confrontation in this country dominated by fascism."

Report by Gram Slattery and Amanda Perobelli; Editing by Franklin Paul and Daniel Wallis

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