Venezuela churning out beauty queens amid crisis
Miss Universe 2012 Olivia Culpo, from the United States, right, places the crown on Miss Venezuela Gabriela Isler during the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, Russia, on Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
CARACAS, Venezuela (AP) — For most Venezuelans, these are trying times. Inflation is running at a two-decade high, salaries are being corroded by a plunging currency and basic goods like milk and toilet paper are in short supply. But even as the economy shows signs of imploding, the country still churns out beauty, as evidenced by Maria Gabriela Isler's pocketing Saturday of the country's third Miss Universe title in six years.
Within minutes of Isler's crowning in Moscow, President Nicolas Maduro sent his congratulations over Twitter, celebrating her performance as a "triumph for Venezuela."
Opponents of his socialist government also expressed pride.
"There's no doubt we have the most beautiful women of the world," said Marco Sandoval, a 68-year-old retiree, as he and dozens of others marched in Caracas against the government in a protest hastily-organized over the Internet. "But nothing is perfect. We also have the most corrupt and shameless politicians in the world."
The top 5 finalists, from left, Miss Ecuador Constanza Baez, Miss Brazil Jakelyne Oliveira, Miss Spain Patricia Yurena Rodriguez, Miss Philippines Ariella Arida and Miss Venezuela Gabriela Isler participate in the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow, Russia, Saturday, Nov. 9, 2013. Gabriela Isler won the Miss Universe 2013 title. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
Born in the city of Valencia, the 25-year-old Isler works as an anchor for Venevision, a channel owned by the Cisneros business group that also has the rights to the annual Miss Venezuela pageant, one of the nation's most-watched televised events. The 5-foot, 10-inch brunette edged out finalists from Spain, Brazil, Ecuador and the Philippines to take the crown in its 61st edition.
Venezuela has won more major international beauty competitions than any other nation, including now seven Miss Universe titles, and beauty queens rank alongside baseball players and oil as the country's biggest exports. 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.