Samba school with anti-graft message triumphs at Rio Carnival

Fans of Beija-Flor Samba school react after it won the 2018 Carnival title in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil February 14, 2018. REUTERS/Pilar Olivares

RIO DE JANEIRO (Reuters) - Decrying rampant corruption and social problems in Brazil, Rio de Janeiro’s Beija-Flor samba school clinched first place on Wednesday after a two-night parade showdown that crowned Carnival festivities in the sweltering city.

Beija Flor triumphed over 12 other schools with a theme that depicted government employees with gold-lined briefcases and corruption-plagued state oil giant Petrobras turned into a favela, as performers enacted a shoot-out in a school classroom near a coffin containing a young child.

“You call me brother so much, and you abandon me to the throne,” the dancers sang. “Greed wears a suit and tie, where hope succumbed.”

Anger at corruption reached a fever pitch in Brazil after a criminal investigation revealed collusion between company executives and politicians to bilk Petrobras out of billions of dollars by overcharging the oil company for contracts.

The samba schools spend months preparing elaborate parades that can cost upwards of $2 million and feature over-the-top floats and heavily costumed dancers that prance across a 700-meter runway in Rio’s sambodrome, as they vye for the prize of bragging rights alone.

Even as some fans spent over $1,000 to witness the annual parades, Rio was overrun by violence. Actress Juliana Paes was held up by assailants just outside the samba venue and over a hundred were arrested for taking part in thefts during the holiday, despite a rampup in security.

Videos played on national TV that showed gangs of young men surrounding, robbing and even beating their victims, including Brazilian and foreign tourists, and at least one off-duty police officer.

Beija-Flor last won the top spot in 2015 with a controversial plot praising Equatorial Guinea, which has been under dictator rule for decades.

In second place, came Paraiso de Tuiuti which depicted President Michel Temer as a vampire.

Reporting by Alexandra Alper; Editing by Alistair Bell