Beija Flor crowned Rio carnival winners with dig at corruption

Rio de Janeiro (AFP) - Traditional samba school Beija Flor was crowned winner of the Rio carnival Wednesday after a performance that portrayed politicians as rats with money-stuffed briefcases in sharply political parades.

The announcement triggered an explosion of joy from its blue and white-clad fans in the Sambodromo stadium as the school from the northern Rio suburb of Nilopolis won its 14th title.

Superstar drag queen Pabllo Vittar appeared in the last parade with Beija Flor in the wee hours of Tuesday.

Second-placed Paraiso do Tuiuti also had a sharply satirical theme, depicting conservative President Michel Temer perched on a sackful of money -- in keeping with a parade filled with unusually strong criticism of the country's leaders.

Temer, whose government has been rocked by almost continuous corruption scandals since he became president in 2016, is said by opinion polls to be the most unpopular leader Brazil has ever known.

"This is a victory for the people, a criticism of what is happening in Brazil right now, all these inequalities," said Neguinho, a singer and one of Beija Flor's emblematic figures.

The 13 elite schools dancing to pulsating samba anthems in the spectacular parade over Sunday and Monday nights were assessed by a panel of 36 judges on nine criteria, ranging from the quality of the floats and costumes to the performance of the percussionists.

One of Beija Flor's floats made a particularly strong impression, with scenes illustrating daily life in the favelas: kidnappings, shootings and a child's body in a coffin with the message, "another bit of hope lost."

Latin America's biggest country is only just emerging from its worst recession on record.

Violent crime in cities like Rio is rocketing, and politics is riddled with corruption and lack of leadership ahead of the October presidential election.

- Thousands of dancers -

Around 3,000 sequined dancers and drummers took part in a cacophonous barrage of music and color before 72,000 spectators crammed into the Sambodromo.

Standards are high at the elite event, and two teams were relegated to the second division -- Imperio Serrano and Grande Rio -- after failing to get a float moving in the parade.

Vittar bolstered one of Beija Flor's principal themes in its parade -- the fight against sexual and other forms of intolerance.

It's an issue of deadly importance for gay and transgender Brazilians: the rights group Grupo Gay de Bahia reported in January that there were 387 murders of LGBT people in 2017, a 30 percent increase over the previous year