Obama, creativity star as Rio Carnival defies crisis

Thu Feb 19, 2009 6:09pm EST
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By Stuart Grudgings

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - The 10 million extra government-provided condoms are poised, final touches being put on huge floats depicting Queen Cleopatra and Can-can dancers, and the Barack Obama masks are flying off the shelves.

Brazil's annual Carnival, the pre-Lenten festival of hedonism that possesses Rio de Janeiro and much of the country, is ready to take off this weekend despite the best attempts of the global economic crisis to drag it down to earth.

Creativity is the word of the year as Rio's top Samba schools grapple with a double whammy of stingy benefactors and a rise in costs of imported materials used in their floats and costumes that are at the center of the spectacle.

The number of foreign tourists is expected to fall by about 10 percent from last year, Rio officials say, and some mining towns in nearby Minas Gerais state had to cancel their parades as the global crisis hit public coffers and employment.

But Brazilian visitors to Rio are expected to make up the numbers for the crisis-hit foreigners and the spirit of debauchery and irreverence is in no danger of being dimmed.

"It'll be the same as always -- lots of sex and lots of drink!" said Leo, a 24-year-old from the Minas Gerais town of Ouro Preto, who was shopping for costumes in downtown Rio and who rushed off without giving his surname.

Violence marred the run-up to the revelry on Thursday as more than 40 tourists were held up and robbed in two separate incidents in a reminder of Rio's severe crime problems.

Seven men armed with knives, guns and grenades broke into a hostel in the district of Lapa, famous for its Samba clubs and parties, early in the morning and held some of the 34 foreign and Brazilian tourists hostage for at least an hour.   Continued...

<p>A member of the Mangueira Samba School works on a carnival float in Rio de Janeiro February 19, 2009. Mangueira is one of the 12 samba schools that will parade along Rio's Sambadrome during festivities from February 20-24. REUTERS/Bruno Domingos</p>