Brazil’s Wild Carnival Puts Rio de Janeiro’s Pentecostal Mayor in a Tight Spot

FILE - Marcelo Crivella, senator and former bishop of the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God, speaks during his inauguration ceremony as mayor of Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Jan. 1, 2017. (AP)

While campaigning last year to become Rio de Janeiro’s mayor, Marcelo Crivella, a retired Pentecostal bishop, insisted his faith would not get in the way of governing the nation’s most famous city.

The former gospel singer and missionary, a high-profile member of one of Brazil’s most powerful evangelical churches, captured 59 percent of the vote and took office January 1. But less than two months into his four-year term, Crivella’s promises are about to be tested by Carnival, Rio’s annual weeklong party often marked by heavy drinking and drug use, wild sex and round-the-clock dancing.

The mayor’s office signaled this week that Crivella might not participate in the festivities starting Friday.

That has many wondering how involved he will be, if at all. Would Crivella handle the traditional presentation of the city’s key to “Rei Momo,” or king of the party and carnal delights? Could his picture be taken at a popular samba school alongside voluptuous women wearing next to nothing?

The possibility he won’t be present for the city’s biggest draw, this year expected to bring in $1 billion in revenue, has sparked head-scratching by some, exasperation among others.

Given Rio’s current economic crisis, “not showing up for Carnival doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do,” said Bernardo Mello Franco, columnist for the newspaper Folha de S. Paulo. “It’s not like he would have to hug a half-naked woman. His function is simply one of protocol.”

“The mayor should participate in Carnival,” insisted Haroldo Costa, a cultural historian in Rio. “He is the host.”

Crivella’s office declined to make him available for an interview or say what he would do during the Carnival period if he didn’t attend. Local reports have said he may travel to Israel.

In a statement to The Associated Press, a Crivella spokesman said the mayor was responsible “for matters related to administration and infrastructure of Rio de Janeiro” and questions about his faith “were not relevant to the city or the [Carnival] party.”

But many Cariocas, as Rio residents are known, disagree. O Globo, the city’s largest daily, went so far as to analyze what other mayors have done during Carnival. Its conclusion: If Crivella doesn’t go, he will be the first mayor in modern times to not attend the opening ceremony — at least in his first year in office.

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