Venezuelan beauty contest bridges political divide
By Jorge Rueda, AP, Oct 11, 2013
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP)—Venezuelans have trouble agreeing on anything these days, whether it’s who really won the election to replace Hugo Chavez or who to blame for this South American nation’s mounting economic woes.
But for a few gala-filled hours, they put all that aside to embrace a shared national obsession: beauty. In what is traditionally the country’s most-watched television event, millions tuned in Thursday night to watch as 18-year-old Migbelis Castellanos was crowned Miss Venezuela.
The 5-foot-7-inch, green-eyed blonde is a political science and communications college student from the state of Zulia. The youngest of 26 finalists competing for the crown, she’ll represent Venezuela at next year’s Miss Universe pageant.
Even as regular Venezuelans struggle to contend with galloping inflation, shortages of basic goods such as toilet paper and strict currency controls, the beauty contest, now in its 61st edition, is experiencing something of a rebirth.
After four years of reduced budgets and smaller venues, the pageant returned this year to Caracas’ main indoor arena, the Poliedro, with a capacity of 15,000. Interest was also piqued by a new reality show beamed across Latin America, called “Miss Venezuela: Everything for the Crown,” which followed the finalists as they learned to walk, talk and smile their way to glory.
Venezuela has won more major international beauty competitions than any other nation, including six Miss Universe titles, and beauty pageants rank alongside baseball as the country’s most-followed diversion, one that transcends social class. A whole industry of grooming schools, plastic surgeons and beauty salons has emerged to prepare young women for the thousands of pageants that take place each year around the country in schools, army barracks and even prisons.
"It doesn’t matter if you’re Chavista or a government opponent, this is one sin we all share," Jose Luiz Martinez, a 21-year-old college student, said yesterday in downtown Caracas.
The country’s problems weren’t visible under the bright lights last night, politics did nudge their way into the question and answer period, when the candidate for Caracas, Andrea Lira, said that more than chasing an ideal of beauty, she dreams of one day transforming her divided nation.
"I want my country to be a country that isn’t complacent and that continues to struggle in the face of adversity so that we can come together in spite of our differences," she said in remarks that elicited extended applause from the audience.