Every year, thousands of tourists and locals flock to Brazil and Trinidad to experience the biggest street parties on Earth, but this year the two Carnival powerhouses are scaling back the festivities because of a financial crisis.
Budget cuts and other austerity measures by both governments have forced the nations to scale back their main competitions and parades. The fall in prices of global commodities such as oil and iron ore, along with alleged local mismanagement of budgets, has led both nations into financial troubles.
“Less and less of public monies will be spent financing the commercial aspects of Carnival,” Prime Minister Keith Rowley of Trinidad and Tobago said to the country’s Chamber of Commerce earlier this month.
Trinidad’s government has been forced to cut back national spending by 7 percent and Carnival spending by 10 percent. Soca Monarch, Panorama and other music competitions tied to the festivities have been consolidated and prize money has been reduced. The private sector has cut back sponsorship as well.
The economic downturn has also affected citizens. Some participation has decreased as locals try to save money everywhere they can.
“The turnout is significantly less,” Lionel Jagessar, a band leader, told the Trinidad and Tabago Guardian. “I usually have over 400 masqueraders. Right now the band has barely reached 200.”
Brazilians face similar problems. Towns and cities across the country, which is the size of the lower 48 states of the U.S., have scaled down or cancelled Carnival celebrations all together after seeing public and private funding dry up. The decrease has made costume making too expensive for some local designers to create their signature pieces.
“It’s especially difficult because 60 percent of the materials we use come from abroad, and have their prices quoted in dollars,” Junior Schall, director of Mangueira Samba school, told The Guardian U.K.
Despite being two very different countries, both nation’s financial woes have similar causes. The drastic decrease in oil prices in the past couple of years has hit both countries hard. This decrease, coupled with local corruption scandals, has lead to the recent economic downturns.
Brazil’s state run oil company, Petrobas, is still tangled in a corruption scandal involving the theft of $3 billion from the company. The firm, which handles 10 percent of Brazil’s income, may see massive—and arguably needed—budget cuts. As a result, secondary industries have also taken a massive hit.
In Trinidad, the energy sector makes up 80 percent of the nation’s export revenue, so the decrease in oil prices have hit the government’s pocketbooks hard, forcing massive cutbacks. Taxes have been raised on some products, and officials have asked citizens to save their money and focus on buying more locally made products. The government even tapped into its $1.5 billion sovereign for good measure.
Despite these massive cutbacks, both countries have stopped short of canceling the festivities altogether. Given that most of the celebrations happen around private and informal parties, the governments probably couldn’t stop them even if they tried.