Rio de Janeiro has in recent years evicted drug dealers from hillside slums, carved fast-moving bus lanes into sclerotic streets and cracked down on unauthorized food vendors along the city’s 93km of beaches.
Now, as they gear up for this year’s carnival, officials are taking aim at another old Rio scourge: public urinating.
Urine flows as freely during Rio’s famous annual festivities as beer and the cane liquor known as cachaca.
For as long as locals remember, the sight of people relieving themselves has been as much a part of carnival as half-naked women, samba schools, drag queens, body paint and drunk foreigners.
However Rio, Brazil’s second-largest city and its most popular tourist destination, now wants to stop the peeing.
To sanitize some of the revelry, officially starting today, city hall has deployed thousands of agents to spot and detain offenders.
“It’s the biggest complaint we get,” says Alex Costa, Rio’s secretary for public order, echoing angry residents whose doors, curbs and car tires get anointed by bursting bladders.
In recent weeks, the city has touted the number of mijoes, or “pee-ers,” that agents have detained during pre-carnival rehearsals and block parties: 321 since Jan. 20, including 16 women and three foreigners. Particularly lewd offenders are fined, but most detainees merely get shuttled to police stations where they miss the rest of the party.
The pee patrol is part of an overall effort to impose more order as carnival’s popularity soars.
Rio’s carnival stems from the tradition by some Catholics to get sins out of their system before the austere season of Lent.
Not too long ago, a volatile economy and rampant crime relegated most of the celebration to a sterile, concrete promenade where professional parade organizers compete in a televised spectacle. It is a far cry from grass-roots revelry.
As Brazil’s economy rebounded in recent years, city officials cleaned up Rio’s marquee neighborhoods.
Block parties and amateur street parades blossomed; adding to events expected this year to generate US$665 million for the local economy.
In the past four years, the size of marches by neighborhood groups, trade organizations and other cliques has doubled, attracting a projected 6 million people this carnival.
Nearly 500 blocos, as the bibulous bunches are known, are scheduled to march by carnival’s end on Wednesday.
To cope, the city has deployed 18,000 portable toilets around town. Along with thousands of police already on patrol, 7,700 municipal agents, more than twice as many as last year, control everything from unlicensed street vendors to illegal parking.
They are also pursuing pee-ers.
In plain clothes so as not to draw suspicion, the agents stood out anyway among 25,000 partiers donning everything from lingerie and Angry Birds masks to grass skirts and devil suits.
The agents milled about side streets and a nearby canal, where their targets might drop trousers.
At first, the pickings were slim.
However, soon enough, two men in miniskirts and sailor caps stumbled toward the wall of a hippodrome. Four agents surrounded the men just as they started to urinate.
Though perturbed, the mijoes finished the task at hand. When they turned, the agents accosted them.
In a square, the revelers rallied like runners at the end of drunken marathon. Catching mijoes was like shooting fish in a barrel.