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When Brazil parties

“Samba Pa Ti”

It is a party that breaks all the records and without a doubt the largest carnival celebration in the world. For five days in early March, hundreds of cities across Brazil come together for high-spirited revelry, with Rio de Janeiro alone drawing around seven million guests.  We took a closer look at the celebrations and ventured a glimpse behind the scenes of Brazil's transport industry.

In the days leading up to Lent, hundreds of thousands crowd the streets of Salvador and Recife, Natal and Olinda and, of course, Sao Paulo and Rio de Janeiro. Some arrive weeks in advance so as not to miss out on the sumptuous pre-carnival atmosphere in many towns and cities. The exuberant festivities begin weeks ahead of carnival with rehearsals for the traditional parades, blocos and street parties.

Most eager onlookers then move on to the magnificent shows and parades in the country’s megacities, where millions of people dance through the streets the weekend before Ash Wednesday. Or at least try to.

Big, bigger, biggest

Carnival requires enormous logistical preparation and planning – and new records are set each year. During this year’s famous competition in Rio held over the course of two days, 14 samba schools with up to 4,000 participants each paraded down the 700-metre long "Sambódromo", the carnival arena purpose built for this event with a capacity of 72,000 spectators, accompanied by soaring kites, larger-than-life allegories and magic horses. In Salvador da Bahia, carnival fills the street. Lorries fitted with huge speakers blast music out into the throngs of spectators. In Brazil’s oldest city, Olinda, gigantic papier-mâché puppets delight the crowds – and in contrast to Rio or Salvador, entry is free.

But even if over a million visitors from abroad (the majority from Argentina, the US and Chile) come each year to experience just the most lavish pinnacle of the celebrations in Rio, the annual carnival festivities belong first and foremost to the Brazilians themselves. Exuberant, excessive, fantastical and boisterous. But in recent years, carnival has involved much more vigorous debate, polarization and unabashed political content.

A challenge for local governments

Without a doubt these events test the mettle of municipal governments and police forces, as is the case with all mega-events. Thousands of police are on active duty to prevent crime. Recently drones and cameras with facial recognition have been deployed to support the police. The underground, trains, busses and light rail systems operate on holiday timetables. Hospitals regularly prepare in advance with blood donation drives. In Rio a number of field hospitals ensure shorter distances and quicker access to first aid. When it is all over, there are around 1,300 tons of garbage to remove and 2,500 cars to tow.

But it seems to be worth the effort. This year, too, local governments see the advantages as outweighing any negatives. Rio saw an additional injection of around €900 million to its economy, and much of that cash followed a straight path right into the tills of local restaurants and tourist establishments.

Speaking of paths

But all of those amazing photos can’t hide one thing: Latin America’s largest country’s Achilles heel is without a doubt its road network. Although a number of infrastructure projects benefited from investments related to Rio de Janeiro’s hosting the 2016 Summer Olympics, the road network in many parts of the country is inadequately developed and in poor condition. Nevertheless, more than 60 per cent of freight is transported by road.

The trunk road network covers a total of 1.5 million kilometers and is the fourth longest in the world, but not even a full quarter of it has been asphalted. Moreover, companies’ transport costs rose in the spring of last year by an average of 30 per cent following an increase in minimum tariffs. This followed country-wide strikes by truck drivers concerned about the growing cost of gas and diesel.

Jumbled rails and raw materials

At the same time, the transportation of freight by rail has (just) moderately increased over the past several years, with the figure hovering somewhere around 20% of total volume. Though the lower freight charges are attractive, the rail network, with just over 30,000 kilometers of track, is relatively small given the sheer size of the country. Because various stretches were built at different times, there is no standard gauge used throughout. There are track gauges today of 600mm, 760mm, 1000mm, 1435mm and 1600mm, which poses considerable challenges to effectively managing rail traffic. Nevertheless some sectors are increasingly turning back to freight transport by rail in response to road congestion. The mining industry in particular has come to depend on rail traffic.

Steady improvement with the help of substantial investment

There are some positive developments too. For example, as part of the preparations for the Olympics, Brazil’s two largest cargo airports, Viracopos in Campinas and Guarulhos in São Paulo, were privatized, and around 30 billion USD was invested in the airports’ infrastructure. Although significant potential for expansion and improvement in the transport system remains, existing infrastructure investments could provide serious momentum in the Brazilian transport sector. One thing is clear: Brazil is the largest country in Latin America, the leader in both consumption and industrial production, and it is not for nothing that it is regarded as the engine behind growth in the Mercosur region. It accounts for no less than 70 per cent of South America’s economic power. Even if Brazil’s growth is not as rapid as in comparable economies, such as India or China, its distinctive national motto displayed on its flag is proving to be more true with each passing day: “Ordem e Progresso” – Order and Progress.

cargo-partner in South America


Our Agent Coordination Office in Brazil is in charge of managing our relations with our network of selected partners and agents throughout South America. Thanks to long-standing relationships with premium partners and carriers, we can offer our full selection of air, sea, road transport and contract logistics solutions and ensure swift and competitive service for our clients in the region.

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