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Where is the Cash for Carnaval?

In certain Brazilian cities, the theme music for 2013 ought to be the famous Carnaval march “Me dá um dinheiro aí” — Give me some money! — by the brothers  Homero, Glauco and Ivan Ferreira.

A vintage clip of the marchinha in question is provided, above.

Assuming, that is, that Carnaval will be celebrated in those towns.

Related story: São Luiz do Paraitinga, famous for its syncopated brass band music, outlaws funk during Carnaval celebration

Saddled with debt by previous administrations and tightening their belt accordingly, incoming mayors continue to cut funds allocated to the escolas and the blocos, which has meant the postponement or even the cancellation of traditional celebrations. All because of a budget shortfall.

The credibility of this report is undermined somewhat by its failure to place these numbers into context. How many formal, organized celebrations are there every year? What does a historical series show about the growth or decline of that number? How are they funded? Is the Ministry of Culture involved? To a lesser or a growing degree? Is it to blame? I recall Gilberto Gil talking about offering clean public subsidies in order to undermine the influence of black-market financiers.

A simple google-up of «orçamento Carnaval» tends to support the thesis: Carnaval budgets are reported down in various parts of Brazil.

Some claim that past administrations failed to organize the festivities and now there is no time left to do so.

At least two capital cities have canceled Carnaval parades, a measure copied by at least ten others.

In another five cities, the budget for the celebration was cut or even delayed.

Brazil has 5,529 municipalities. How many had hosted Carnaval celebrations in the past? Is the trend downward, upward, or stable?

In Florianópolis, the competitive parades were cut because the city administration, saddled with R$ 100 million in debt, decided not to allocate R$3 million among the Carnaval societies. (The street Carnaval blocos will continue as usual.)

The savings will be applied to health care, says mayor Cesar Souza Júnior (PSD).

Carnaval blocos are  popular, semi-organized street «crews», most often organized around a shared symbol, like the Black Polka Dot cordão of Rio. In our neighborhood, there is a bloco called Vai Quem Quer — come one, come all.

Just buy the T-shirt and you are in. That was how I became a Coney Island Polar Bear, and marched in the Mermaid Parade, in fact. The blocos are a low-tech precursor to the smart mob, I guess you could say.

São Luís (MA) and Petrópolis (RJ) canceled their parades in favor of healthcare spending as well.

In Diamantina (MG), one of Brazil’s most renowned celebrations is threatened with cancellation, although the city government announced this week that the festivities would be «an economical, but still joyful, Carnaval».

The city proposes paying out half the standard subsidy of R$ 1 million. Interim mayor Maurício Maia (PSDB) says he inherited debts of  R$ 5 million …

For this reason, uncertainty about the status of the parade has hurt sales of Carnaval costumes to participants in a number of the Carnaval societies. 30,000 tourists are expected to attend. .


There will also be no Carnaval em Ilhéus (BA), where the city is trying something fairly odd: postponing Fat Tuesday until Easter and calling the event “The Motifs of Holy Week.”

Carnaval has also been postponed in Porto Velho (RO). With no date set, it may not happen at all.

In São Paulo state, celebrations were cancelled in  São Carlos, Barretos, Caçapava, Guaratinguetá, Lorena and São José dos Campos — in the latter case, because there were problems with the accounts of last year’s celebration.

Events subsidized with public money are easily, and eagerly exploited by political money-laundering operators such as the defendants in Trial 470.

In Guaratinguetá, the local samba groups have hired professional samba dancers from Rio and São Paulo. “Sixty percent of our Carnaval is ready to go. No one is worried,” says João Eduardo Santos  president of the samba academy Acadêmicos do Campo do Galvão, .

In this cafofo, we share our loyalties between Gaviões da Fiel and Pérola Negra — and a big old Texas saravá to both.


Celebrations in Araraquara and Taubaté will be abbreviated. In Campinas, festivities will last only two days and the massive sound cars known as trios elétricos [– above –] will not be used.

Dário Berger (PMDB), former Florianópolis mayor, says he set aside the needed funds during his term in office and that the parade was canceled because the current administration disagrees with his financial model.

The former mayor of Caçapava, Carlos Vilela (PSD) says he did not leave the municipality saddled with debt. Former municipal culture secretary Renata Sunega blamed the lack of organization during the previous administration.

It was my recollection that the federal government was setting up some sort of special budget allocation to the Ministry of Culture that would obviate the need for certain other forms of funding — from organized crime, for example.

The patronage of the bicheiros is legendary. This relationship even resulted in a tainted outcome in a competition a couple of years back — including death threats to judges who voted the wrong way.

Public-Private Partnership, Rio Carnaval 2006 — Far left, Capitão Guimarães, former military torturer and historic numbers racketeer. Second from left, Rio Mayor César Maia. 

The situation recalls that scene from near the end of the Sopranos when two traditional goombas attempt to extort the manager of Starbucks.

The young man tells the goombas that their traditional protection racket will no longer work because Starbuck and other brands are monumental, faceless bureacracies. «You can kill me, but they will just send another one just like me.» Or something like that.

The Fiscal Siege of Fortaleza

The Estado de S. Paulo, meanwhile, provides a fairly detailed account of one capital city affected by the budget crunch as the folia approaches — Fortaleza, in Ceará. .

Scarcely had the new secretary of culture been sworn in when the new team confronted a considerable problem: guaranteeing support for the crowds that turn out for street processions in the January run-up to Carnaval.

Among the difficulties that arose from the conflict-ridden change of city administrations is  the bill fixing the sum of R$ 300,000 in public subsidies allocated to 50 Carnaval groups, a measure that was not voted by January 1, before the clock ran out on the old administration.

The solution found was to issue a new directive for cultural production in Fortaleza, as well as to encourage debate with the private sector on private patronage of the arts.

“The issue of patronage for pre-Carnaval events was not a strategy, it was a necessity. The city government cannot just say: “I’ll take R$ 500,000 and pay it to the «blocos». The prefecture of Fortaleza dos not have the power to allocate this money without a formal mechanism to authorize it,”explains the incoming Culture secretary of Fortaleza, Magela Lima.

The absence of an official announcement, which should have been filed a year ago, led the  city to seek private-sector partners, on an emergency basis.  “What did the City have to offer? A public tender that would fund the infrastructure, the bathrooms, the stages, the lighting, and everything. .But how do we pay the blocos? How do we select the recipients? In answer to these questions, private sponsorship was strategically vital,” the secretary said. According to Magela, the arrival of private sector suppport not only reduces public spending but is also positive for the public image of the festivities, attracting more media coverage and shoring up the event’s credibility.

“The Carnaval of Boa is a national project supported by Ambev. You surf to the Ambev Web site, and there it is, side by side with Rio and Salvador. Pre-Carnaval in Fortaleza achieved a level of visibility it had never had before.” “It is not just about the money,” Magela said. Magela rebuts questions raised by the partnership agreement which among other things leaves the door open to a privatization of street Carnaval, in which each bloco is ruled by private enterprise and in which free public access to the group would be limited.

The best time I ever had at Carnaval was taking my nephew to the mini-Carnaval at SESC-Pompéia. «Coitado do jacaré!»

Without private initiative, the smaller groups will be unable to take to the streets. If the major blocos are taking to the streets, this is because they have already found private-sector funding,” he said — something of a Catch 22 … Private sector funding is the only thing keeping the festivities alive.”There is money out there and we need to go after it. I don’t understand why this is not being done. This is clean money, not dirty,” he says.


Among the Carnaval societies supported by City Hall by means of private funding, Luxo da Aldeia defends public-private partnerships, as long as this patronage does not erode the values and priorities of the celebration.

“I don’t see it as necessarily a bad thing, but you have to take care not to allow your image to be diluted. A lot depends on how the process is managed.  I don’t see any major problems with the Carnaval in Olinda  I spent four or five years there, they were sponsored by beer companies and you didn’t see any privatization. It depends on the conditions offered and the obligations to be assumed,” says Mateus Perdigão, one of the organizers of Luxo. Mateus says that a night parade in the streets of the city costs around R$3,000 to R$5,000.

“With the money that we had, we were able to bankroll two parades, just barely. When we resolved the matter with City Hall, we are planning to take the streets on all four pre-Carnaval days, as well as the two days of Carnaval itself. We have also signed a partnership with  the Kukukaya concert hall where we will put on two shows. We sell T-shirts at the theater and receive a percentage of the house,” says Perdigão, regarding the source of funding for this year.

I have searching for federal cultural subsidies for what is, after all, a major cultural export product. In 2007, the budget of the trio elétrico Carnaval of Bahia looked something like the following:

  1. Allocated by Bahia state government: R$ 4 million.
  2. Investment by Bahia government in services: R$ 1.8 million
  3. Federal Government (MinC/Pronac) R$ 2 million
  4. Private sponsorships: R$ 4.55 million

List of private sponsors

  1. Schincariol — R$ 1.6 million
  2. Petrobras — R$ 1.2 million
  3. Coca-Cola — R$ 1.0 million
  4. Insinuante — R$ 440,000
  5. Wal-Mart — 310,000

I make that out to be BRL 11.75 million.