Venezuelan beauty contest bridges political divide
Contestants pose during the Miss Venezuela beauty pageant in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013. From left, Miss Amazonas Debora Menicucci, Miss Anzoategui Daniela Briceno, Miss Apure Rogegsy Rivas, Miss Aragua Stephani de Zorsi, Miss Barinas Yaro Serpa, Miss Bolivar Fiorella Di Sabatino, Miss Carabobo Mariella Agriesti. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
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.
Miss Costa Oriente Migbelis Castellanos, center, competes with other contestants at the Miss Venezuela beauty pageant in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013. From left are Miss Cojedes Wi May Nava, Miss Aragua Stephani de Zorsi, Miss Costa Oriente Migbelis Castellanos, Miss Guarico Michelle Bertolini and Miss Nueva Esparta Gabriela Graf. Castellanos won the crown. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
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.
Miss Costa Oriente, Migbelis Castellanos smiles after being crowned as Miss Venezuela 2013 during the beauty pageant in Caracas, Venezuela, Thursday, Oct. 10, 2013. (AP Photo/Ariana Cubillos)
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.