Samba School Outrage Points To Carnival's Murky Financial History One of the top schools competing in the Carnival parade received $3.5 million from Equatorial Guinea, sparking outrage in Brazil. The move puts a spotlight on Carnival's questionable sponsorships.
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Samba School Outrage Points To Carnival's Murky Financial History

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Samba School Outrage Points To Carnival's Murky Financial History

Samba School Outrage Points To Carnival's Murky Financial History

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

It's Carnival in Brazil - the wild five-day celebration before the beginning of Lent. NPR's Lourdes Garcia-Navarro reports on another side of the festivities - the shady financing.

(SOUNDBITE OF SAMBA MUSIC)

LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, BYLINE: Oh, Carnival - the music, the costumes, the pageantry and - oh, yeah - the inevitable yearly financial scandal. This time it involves the samba school Beija-Flor, one of the top schools competing for the grand prize in the samba parade. This is their rehearsal you're listening to, and this year, it has an African theme. Actually, let me be more specific. Their main song, which they will perform in the Sambadrome, is dedicated to Equatorial Guinea.

AYDANO MOTTA: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "You can see many examples of very questionable sponsorships during Carnival," journalist and Carnival expert Aydano Motta tells me. And this one has caused enormous outrage in Brazil, especially among human rights groups. First, it's the biggest sum ever given to a samba school. The Guinea government offered $3.5 million dollars to sponsor Beija-Flor's production.

But the real issue is that Equatorial Guinea is run by a dictator, Teodoro Obiang Nguema. He's been in power longer than anyone else in Africa, and he has the dismal human rights record to prove it. Human Rights Watch describes the nation like this - "vast oil revenues fund lavish lifestyles for the small elite surrounding the president, while a large proportion of the population continues to live in poverty."

MOTTA: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Motto says, "The schools don't care about where the money comes from, but they look for it out of necessity." The reason is the ballooning cost of putting on the yearly spectacle that is Rio's Carnival. The main samba schools are based in very impoverished areas, but every year, the productions get bigger and bigger. Some money comes from TV rights and ticket sales, but it doesn't cover all the expenses. So here's the back story to that murky money. For years, the samba schools were supported by gambling kingpins known as bicheiros. Now the schools get corporate and government sponsorships. A yogurt brand offered funding, and Motta quips it stretched artistic imagination on how to do a samba dance as an ode to dairy.

MOTTA: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Motta says, "There were probiotics costumes, many cow costumes." "It was the strangest theme," he says, "of recent Carnaval history." Motta says, "The real scandal though is that all this money is being used to essentially put on a show."

MOTTA: (Speaking Portuguese).

GARCIA-NAVARRO: "This year, one of the samba schools is being sponsored by Switzerland," Motta says. "Countries should be given money that could be used to benefit the population, especially in these poor places," he says. Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, NPR News, Sao Paulo.

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