Casting aside widespread pre-Olympic road and subway construction, uprooted neighborhoods, and construction company corruption, Brazilians celebrated New Year’s Eve at Rio de Janeiro’s iconic Copacabana Beach. Against the backdrop of this picturesque strand and an awe-inspiring fireworks show, the upcoming 2016 Summer Olympics was daringly featured – up until the final moments.
Rio Mayor Eduardo Paes boldly publicized an “Olympic City” theme amidst rampant “carioca” apprehension about the Summer Games that has siphoned hundreds of millions of Brazilian reals from public funding.
In the run-up to last night’s celebration, many disgruntled Rio residents posted their objections to the Rio Cidade Maravilhosa Facebook page. Several skeptics questioned why government money was being squandered on this spectacle, when this funding could be devoted instead to hospitals, schools, and housing. “The Brazilian government, totally devoid of ethics and morals, withdrew millions of health and education for the completion of these parties,” proclaimed one poster. Others lamented excesses such as these as well as the 173-foot, 350-ton floating Christmas tree adorning a nearby lagoon.
Still the Brazilians seized the evening for themselves, as a reward for keeping afloat financially in a tumultuous 2015, and with hopes of better navigating the tough waters that lie ahead. This annual “Reveillon” celebration attracted over two million revelers, and featured: several bands whose music blared through thirty towering loudspeakers, and an orchestrated 16-minute, 34,000 shell fireworks show.
Launched from barges anchored just off-shore, a 13-color kaleidoscope of pageantry was choreographed to music coursing through the sound system that stretched across this 2.5 mile beach. The soundtrack featured the theme for the Los Angeles 1984 Games, and closed with Vangelis’s stirring Chariots of Fire masterpiece.
At midnight, Brazilians as well as foreigners (estimated in the tens of thousands) danced, hugged, and kissed on the beach; while thousands jumped into the surf to usher in the new year – a good luck tradition. This tourism influx has been estimated to generate a windfall of nearly $700 million in revenue.
Paes touted that this party would pay a tribute to the Rio Olympics in August, with its dazzling pallete of colors and an energizing soundscape. Further, “The fireworks show will have a surprise, and we will hold the suspense until the last moment. I think it is the most beautiful thing to use this fireworks display to ring in our ‘Year of the Olympics’,” he said earlier this week.
Yet, for the celebration’s climax, the plug was inexplicably pulled from the final illumination. The planned showcasing of the five colorful Olympic rings, which would light-up the waters from a floating barge, was a mysterious “no-show.” Brazilian Olympic organizers, possibly fearing a public backlash or due to a lack of funding, opted to save this tribute’s display for a later date.