The Paraiso do Tuiuti samba school performs during the first night of Rio’s Carnival

President Michel Temer as Dracula, crooked politicians, and a giant backside mocking Rio de Janeiro's mayor set the tone for this week's unusually politicized samba parades as the Rio carnival hits its peak. The Sambodromo parades, running through Sunday night and restarted yesterday, were as always a lush cocktail of glamor, eccentric costumes, pounding samba anthems and sweaty, pulsating sensuality. But amid the feather headdresses, sparkly G-strings and dancers dressed as everything from trees to Chinese merchants, serious politics intruded this year.

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 October presidential elections. The carnival still claims to be "the greatest show on Earth." But neither the 13 elite samba schools competing, nor the 72,000 spectators crammed into the Sambodromo are immune to the country's anger.

Kick up the backside

One target of that anger overnight Sunday was Rio Mayor Marcelo Crivella. A bishop in the evangelical mega-church founded by his billionaire uncle, Crivella can hardly conceal his disdain for the carnival's excesses of the flesh ahead of the start of Roman Catholic Lent on Ash Wednesday. Even though the carnival is a huge revenue earner for the city, Crivella has halved subsidies to the annual bash and refused so much as to attend the Sambodromo parades. In a video released just after the first parades got underway Sunday, the mayor said he was leaving to Europe.

For Paraiso do Tuiuti-one of the 13 schools vying in the epic talent contest-the mayor has declared war. They replied by putting a large, bare and cellulite-riddled pink backside on one of their floats. Hidden under a temporary covering on the right cheek was Crivella's name, said organizer Erick Erasmo, 40, just before the school started marching. "There's a heart with Crivella written on it-like you have on a tattoo," he said. "The bum represents the mayor for cutting our budget, for trying to end our happiness," said another organizer, Helton Dias, 28.

President Dracula

Center-right President Michel Temer-said by opinion polls to be the most unpopular president Brazil has ever known-was also taking a ribbing. Temer came to power in 2016 after leftist president Dilma Rousseff was ejected in an impeachment vote driven by Temer's close allies. Since then, his government has been rocked by almost continuous corruption scandals, while his push for economic austerity measures has sent popular support plummeting. The Paraiso do Tuiuti school depicted him as Dracula on Sunday. "I am a vampire who is meant to represent the president of the republic," said history teacher Leo Morais, 39, as he sat having makeup applied for his role as the undead version of Temer.

Morais, who already had his face painted white and would later don big black wings and a lot of fake dollar bills, said the carnival was a chance for Brazil's poor to be heard. "The samba schools have a social role," he said. "They speak out for ordinary people." Paraiso do Tuiuti was also deploying a squadron of people dressed as yellow bath ducks, a symbol of mass demonstrations against corruption and against the government that helped bring down Rousseff. The ducks were portrayed as being manipulated by a politician's giant hand a reference to claims that the street protests were organized by forces hoping to see Temer take power.

Jailed politicians

The face-off between the samba schools in the purpose-built Sambodromo is taken every bit as seriously as the city's other great love, football. Each school gets about an hour to parade with some 3,000 dancers, singers and drummers dressed in over-the-top costumes. Last year, the contest ended in a draw between the Mocidade and Portela schools. The new champion will be announced on Wednesday. One of the big names to watch in the session running overnight from will be the Beija-Flor school. They too are going political, with dancers dressed as politicians and businessmen behind bars-a nod to the sprawling Car Wash anti-corruption probe that has put many powerful Brazilians in prison.-AFP