February 20, 2004

Carnival haters brace for world's biggest party

RIO DE JANEIRO, Brazil (AP) --It's an invitation to hell, warns a minister. Too violent
and chaotic, complains a scientist. For others, it's only good as an excuse to get out of

Carnival: So many Brazilians seem to hate it, despite the stereotype of an entire
nation putting everything on hold to dance and drink the night away.

Known as the world's biggest party, the five-day long pre-Lenten bash started
Friday with the ceremonial handing of the key to the city of Rio to the symbolic
"Fat King."

Tourists may love it, but a recent survey conducted by the Sensus polling group
found that 57.4 percent of Brazilians dislike carnival and want nothing to do
with it.

"It's the devil's party. It's a pagan festival. It encourages prostitution," explains
the Rev. Flavio Luis Silva Araujo, a pastor for the Universal Kingdom of God

"The word of the Lord is very clear: The spirit should not satisfy the lewdness
of the flesh."

A growing number of Brazilians share this view, thanks to the increasing
popularity of evangelical Protestant churches in this predominantly Roman
Catholic country.

Currently, about 15 percent of Brazil's 175 million people belong to evangelical
Protestant denominations like Kingdom of God, Assembly of God and the God
is Love Church -- all of which regularly scorn carnival.

Other Brazilians have more earthly problems with the celebration.

"I used to like carnival quite a lot when I was young," explains Fernando
Pacheco, a 41-year-old ornithologist. "But I stopped liking it when it stopped
being an innocent street party and became a mega-spectacle full of violence
and confusion."

Over the past two decades, drug violence spilling into the streets from the city's
slums has spoiled much of the fun. The Sensus polls found that among those
who like carnival, 19.4 percent would be watching it on TV.

During last year's celebrations, 70 people were killed around the city. Drug
gangs burned dozens of city buses before the start of the festivities, prompting
the government to put army tanks in the streets. (No tanks were expected this

The highlight of Rio's festival -- the biggest of all the carnival festivities in cities
across Brazil -- is the samba parade that has taken place in the specially
designed Sambadrome stadium since 1984.

Many say even that is a let down: Revelers are confined to the stands, and
ticket are too pricey for many residents.

Carnival kicks off the start of Lent, the period between Ash Wednesday and
Easter observed by Christians as a season of fasting and penitence. Excess and
revelry are the point of carnival, represented by figure of the "fat king."

"When the mayor hands the key to the city to the fat king, he's symbolically
handing the key to the city to all the tourists," says Danielle Migueletto, a
researcher at the Getulio Vargas Institute, who usually leaves town during
carnival to meditate at a mountaintop retreat.

The only downside to leaving, she says, is the miles of traffic that clogging the
cities arteries on the eve of the celebration.

So, is Rio's image as a party city a case of a very vocal minority shouting down
the majority? Or, are carnival lovers not the kind of people who answer polls?

Some 2,000 people in 195 cities were interviewed between February 4-6 for
the Sensus survey, which had a margin of error of plus or minus three
percentage points.

Rio's mayor, Cesar Maia, says he still believes Brazil's remaining "70 million
people like it."

"That's more than the entire population of many countries," he told The
Associated Press via e-mail. "I love the parades. They are a spectacle
unmatched in the world."

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press.