This year, the happiest party on earth, Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, isn't as happy as in years past. While Cariocas (Rio's residents) take to the streets in colorful costumes or little clothing they can't let go of the images of the six-year-old, who was dragged through its streets just a few days ago in one of the most barbaric crimes in recent memory.
The images of little João Hélio Fernandes Vieites being decapitated and having his blood spread on the asphalt by robbers who stole his mother's car and rushed while the little boy tried unsuccessfully to get out of his car seat are still so fresh that many people simply refused to celebrate Carnaval this year.
The city may be celebrating, but it's also still in mourning. Some have suggested that the Escolas de Samba (Samba Clubs) use all their international exposure starting this Sunday night to protest against violence.
Actress Vera Holtz, who had several commitments for Carnaval cancelled all of them. And explained: "I don't feel at ease to celebrate Carnaval amidst all this sadness. I enjoy happiness, I enjoy life. My drums turned mute."
Neguinho from Escola de Samba Beija Flor, one of Rio Carnaval's icons is still participating in the celebrations, but he has a message to authorities and other Brazilians:Â "Our rulers need to give value to children's and teenagers' life so that they also learn to value life. We need to take advantage of our prettiest party to pay homage to little João Hélio. That's the minimum we can do."
Messages against violence were also heard across the nation during the Carnaval celebrations. In Rio, 300,000 revellers took to the streets with the traditional Carnaval group known as Cordão do Bola Preta. Participants were asked to observe a minute of silence in memory of João Hélio. Pedro Ernesto Marinho, the vice-president of the Bola Preta read, the following message:
"The Cordão do Bola Preta, being Carnaval's headquarter and the oldest and most traditional of all the Carnaval groups, could not keep silent in this occasion. We ask for peace from the Carioca people. I would like that all those who are here follow our group's motto, which is peace and love. May people love each other more."
Despite ongoing violence that has shaken Rio de Janeiro for months, the Brazilian city said it is expecting 700,000 tourists for its world-famous Carnaval celebrations this year.
The city's Tourism Secretary Rubem Medina estimated that Rio will earn about US$ 500 million from tourist activities, compared to about US$ 15 million that city authorities have invested in the celebrations.
The high point of Rio's celebrations is the samba parade on Sunday and Monday nights when 13 of the city's top-tier Carnaval groups will parade through the especially designed Sambódromo stadium, which holds 60,000.
"I believe there is nothing like it anywhere in the world," Medina said.
Publicity campaigns abroad to advertise the most famous Carnaval in Brazil has succeeded in countering the negative effect of news reports on ongoing violence in Rio de Janeiro, Medina said.
"We have the greatest New Year's celebrations in the world and the greatest Carnaval. Rio de Janeiro remains an icon of Brazil," he said.
Carnaval celebrations also were taking place in other cities across Brazil, such as Salvador and Olinda on the country's northeastern coast where festivities got under way Thursday.