Switzerland melts cold image in heat of Rio's Carnival

Mon Feb 16, 2015 6:00pm EST
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By Stephen Eisenhammer

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Carnival in Rio de Janeiro usually evokes images of stunning semi-clad women and giant floats of bursting color, all moving to the heady beat of the samba drum.

This year one samba school is asking you to picture one more thing ... Switzerland.

As Rio's Carnival has grown into a global phenomenon, competition between schools to win the flagship samba parade has become fierce and those that want to win need money, lots of it.

Schools increasingly look to sponsors for the cash, and with Brazil an attractive market for everything from agri-business to pocket knives, strange partners have joined the parade.

"When Switzerland knocked on the door with their proposal ... Well, I had to think about it," said Fernando Horta, president of defending champions Unidos da Tijuca, as he sat behind a giant desk in his office rolling a Cuban cigar between his fingers. In the warehouse below people worked around the clock painting the giant floats.

While many lament the commercialization of Carnival and the samba, which has its roots in the arrival of freed slaves in Rio at the end of 19th century, those competing say there is little choice.

"Carnival is like soccer these days. If you want to win you need money for the best choreographers, set designers and costumes ... The best are all professionals now," Horta said.

For Switzerland, Carnival presents the perfect opportunity to try and destroy a few stereotypes as well as a chance for some of its companies to tap an important emerging market.   Continued...

A dancer performs during a rehearsal for Carnival at the Unidos da Tijuca samba school in Rio de Janeiro, February 7, 2015. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares