Carnival faces criticism from Church

( dpa ) - For the next few days during Carnival, Silvia wants to know nothing about the usual bad news, choosing like many Brazilians to focus on the festivities.

Many in Brazil define Carnival as "a state of mind," a celebration of excess, where rhythm and sequins bring people out of their mostly lacklustre and often difficult daily lives and into a collective frenzy of colour and joy.

"I have already paid for half the costume," says the 24-year-old call centre worker said.

Silvia, a resident of a poor neighbourhood in Rio de Janeiro, has to put together more than 1,000 dollars - twice her monthly wage - for her Carnival finery. But, like millions of Brazilians, she does not mind the expense, saying Carnival makes up for a lot of the troubles of everyday life.

As anthropologist Roberto Da Matta explains, Brazilians can experience "a fantastic and utopian abstraction from poverty, work, obligations, sins and tasks" during the celebrations.

In Rio and other cities raucous celebrations last all day and all night, with crowded street partying that involves dancing, drinking and frequent flirting with strangers to accompany formal parades.

The Catholic Church is not comfortable with the excess, casual sex and ties to violence.

"Luxury and waste collide with the prevailing poverty," Rio Archbishop Eugenio Sales wrote in the daily O Globo.

The squandered money could be put to better use if it went towards helping abandoned street children or the country's needy public hospitals, Sales said.

The 14 samba schools set to take part late Saturday and Sunday in the world-famous Rio Carnival parades receive from the government alone a record 7.4 million dollars. And sponsors add millions more.

Police were investigating the possibility that an infamous mafia boss helped compose the music for several samba groups. And it is hardly a secret in Rio that the barons of illegal gambling, known as "bicheiros," who often settle their differences with firearms, have for decades been the main financial supporters of samba schools.

This year, Carnival will also be overshadowed by a severe security crisis. Rio's police commander was dismissed Tuesday, leading more than 40 high-ranking officers to resign in protest.

Security Secretary Jose Beltrame stressed that the local crowds and some 700,000 foreigner visitors expected in the city have nothing to fear.

But at least six people were killed Wednesday in a police operation in the "favelas" (slums) of Mangueira and Jacarezinho, two strongholds of the samba schools. Violence is an everyday problem in Rio de Janeiro with 17 people murdered each day in the state.

However, it it is not crime that worries officials. The licentiousness of the Carnival, which grows from year to year, made even Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva intervene.

Lula called upon Brazilians to remain sensible over the celebrations, and warned them against alcohol abuse in particular. Brazilian traffic, which is generally chaotic anyway, claims numerous victims over Carnival.

Several NGOs claimed there would be insufficient condoms to go around, although Health Minister Jose Gomes Temporao countered that the central government alone will distribute some 20 million free condoms over Carnival - a 77 per cent increase over the 2007 figure.

In the north-eastern city of Recife, a court allowed municipal authorities to distribute the morning-after pill for free during the celebrations. Earlier, the Catholic Church had requested a ban on the distribution, calling it is an abortive medication that promotes a culture of sex and violence.

Beyond the controversies, the Rio Carnival is set to offer the traditional exposure of naked skin, colourful costumes and samba music, in the presence of rich and famous people from around the world.

The floats will be watched by 90,000 spectators at the Sambodromo stadium, while millions follow the parades on television at home and in bars. On the 800-metre route, 4,000 dancers will parade and every samba school will have 80 minutes to present its allegoric float. The parade will end after sunrise.

The Brazilian Carnival was born in the 17th century, when slaves were granted the right to celebrate at their own leisure for a couple of days each year and to criticize their masters in public in their songs in a bid to prevent dreaded uprisings.

Today, this has not changed much.

"For as long as the Carnival exists, there will be no revolution in Brazil," Peruvian writer Mario Vargas Llosa has said.

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