Brazilians set to party their worries away as Carnival kicks off

Fri Feb 13, 2015 11:10am EST
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By Asher Levine

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Brazilians are in a dour mood at the moment, giving them all the more reason to party as Carnival celebrations officially kick off in earnest on Friday.

A slumping economy, soaring prices, plunging consumer confidence, widespread water shortages and a major corruption scandal have dominated headlines in recent months, suggesting most Brazilians have few reasons to rejoice.

But in a society where life's challenges are often processed through a unique blend of lightheartedness and dark humor, the country's current batch of problems may make this year's Carnival even more memorable.

"Carnival has always been an escape valve," said Gerson Moraes, a history and philosophy professor at Mackenzie University in São Paulo. "Brazilians use the freedom of Carnival to air out all their frustrations in an environment built around having fun."

Frustrations are not lacking at the moment.

A severe drought in southeastern Brazil has raised the possibility of water shortages in top tourist destination Rio de Janeiro and even led officials to cancel Carnival celebrations in several smaller cities in neighboring states. That is a drastic move in a country known worldwide for the lavish bashes that offer a last chance for excess before the solemn period of Lent.

Meanwhile, Brazilians are fuming over a multibillion-dollar corruption scandal at state-run oil giant Petrobras, which has helped drag President Dilma Rousseff's popularity to a record low.

As in previous years, many street-party revelers are expressing their dissatisfaction by dressing up as politicians or business leaders. This year's most popular Carnival masks include former Petrobras Chief Executive Maria das Graças Foster and President Rousseff herself.   Continued...

Rio de Janeiro's Mayor Eduardo Paes (C) hands over the city's ceremonial key to the "Rei Momo", or Carnival King Wilson Neto (L) at Cidade Palace in Rio de Janeiro February 13, 2015. REUTERS/Sergio Moraes