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Michael or Maecenas? | The New Godfathers of Carnaval


Private and principally public patronage of Samba champions 2013

Just when I thought I was out… they pull me back in. —Michael Corleone, The Godfather (1972)

Champion of this year’s Rio de Janeiro Special Group, with an environment-friendly agroindustrial-related theme sponsored in part by pesticide manufacturer BASF, the Vila Isabel escola de samba illustrates the fascinating convergence of world and underworld during the annual delirium.

iG, for example, shines a spotlight on a young Carnaval Maecenas from a venerable jogo de bicho — numbers racketeering — family, Little Wilson Alves, whose father, the legendary Moisés Alves, was tried and sentenced for racketeering in 2006.

Moisés is said to be a leader of the “nickel hunter” — one-armed bandit — gambling machines mafia.

For “is said to be” read “has been sentenced to a very long time in prison for being, and is free pending the result of appeals …”

The story as iG reports it turns on what is something of a forced analogy, however.

Isn’t the son, Wilsinho, similar to the character of Michael Corleone in The Godfather?

Not really.

He does not really seem all that bitter about being pulled back in, for example. It might be fair to say that he seeks to legitimize the family business, but more information is needed.

Source: iG
Excerpt and translation: C. Brayton

At 28 years of age, the son of Moisés Alves admits to being called «godfather», but attributes his standing in the community to the hard work that brought the samba school into the special access group and won it two championships.


CAPTION: The youngest Carnaval society president ever to win a championship, Wilsinho celebrates with Carnaval muse Sabrina.

The youngest escola de samba president ever to win a Rio Carnaval championsip, Wilsinho Alves of Vila Isabel acknowleges the respect and the reverence in which he is held by  members of the escola, but denies that he is a Godfather, “like in the movie”.

During the verification of the votes on Wednesday afternoon, as iG reported, Wilsinho was observed giving orders and receiving all manner of affection and respect from leaders and supporters of the escola.  Some bystanders asked the young man — he turned 28 on Saturday before Carnaval — for his “blessing.”

“I am not Don Corleone, «The Godfather» — a great film, by the way — but as it happens they do call me Godfather, or in other words, President … Our people are humble, grateful. The nickname is similar, but it is not like in the movie”, he told iG, laughing at the comparison.

Professionalization of management and climate of respect

Wilsoninho says that the rise to prominence of by the samba society and the social welfare programs initiated by his father, Wilson Alves — aka Moisés — during his term as president (2004-2011), that has led to the gratitude of the community.

“I command a certain respect, it is true, but I do not get a big head about it. I am very low key and acccesible, I try to talk with everyone. The community has respect for my family, for me, for my father and mother (who founded the costume shops and social assistance programs) because we take good care of what they love most, namely, Vila Isabel. Their gratitude is genuine. They have mad love for our escola de samba!” he says.

Wilsinho says that Wilson now plays the role of father to the community … but is less active than before. “He is always there, passionately loved by our people. He changed the life of this escola.”

The Michael Corleone Meme

Although he minimizes similarities with Francis Ford Coppola’s mobster epic, Wilsinho’s career does resemble somewhat the role of Michael Corleone, played by Al Pacino. Like Michael returning from World War II, Wilsinho returned home after studying law at Florida Central University to help manage the family business. The 21-year-old had been born and raised in the Baixada Fluminense of Rio de Janeiro and was summoned by Moisés in 2003 to lead Vila Isabel.

How so? Moisés was president of Vila Isabel 2004-2011

“I was living abroad and my father called me home, saying: «We are committing ourselves to Vila Isabel». The shanties in the neighborhood were filthy. Moises said: “Do something, we have to build workrooms, making this a clean place to work.”

Vila has been numbered among the elite of Rio Carnaval since 2001. Moisés took over in 2003, and in the following year, the school was admitted to the exclusive Special Group. In 2006, Vila and its patron won its first major championship. Club headquarters were completely renewed and modernized — air conditioning will be installed in 2013 — and the books were balanced. In the Morro dos Macacos, from which the escola takes its name, Vila began to conduct social programs, providing dental and medical services and a communal computer center.

Wilsinho started out as a buyer, hitting the streets to acquire products needed and “learning Carnaval.”

His “grand mentor” in this process was Elmo, former president of Mangueira and the man who turned Beija-Flor into the model to be followed.

It was not long before Wilsinho got involved in adminstrative and executive aspects of running the escola … He assumed the presidency in April of 2011, at a time when Moisés was being sentenced to 23 years in prison for smuggling, racketeering and bribery as part of his “nickel-hunter” gambling machine operation.

For its part, BASF has already announced its financial support for Carnaval next year, for which Vila Isabel will put together a continuation of its agrobusiness-themed homage to Respect® for the environment.

Finally, Rio tabloid Extra claims that father and son have had a falling out.

Out of prison pending appeal, former Vila Isabel president Wilson Vieira Alves, aka Moisés, is at war with his son Wilsinho, the escola de samba’s current president. Moisés accuses his son and air of mismanagement and failing to maintain the social supports he created for the community. He is maneuvering to return to the position he held before being arrested in April 2010 on charges of running “nickel-hunter” slots in Niterói.

Like Godfather, Like God-Son?

Accused of involvement in the “nickel-hunter” mafia, Moisés was arrested in April 2010, in as part of federal police Operation Alvará — roughly, Operation Corporate Charter. He is accused of leading the Rio gambling rackets. At the time, a federal investigation found that the nickel-hunter mafia was distributing “charters” to commercial establishments authorized to use the racket’s machines.

A retired military man, — he was a sergeant in the intelligence sector of the Airborne Brigade — Moisés was selected to head Vila Isabel in mid-2004 by LIESA president Ailton Guimarães «Captain» Jorge [– also ex-military intelligence].

With the Captain as his patron, Wilson soon rose to president of the escola de samba.