The 64th edition of Miss Venezuela was staged on Thursday evening in Caracas in a ceremony that might best be described as low key. In a radical shift from the pomp and glamour that has characterized previous events, and reflecting the worsening economic crisis in the South American country, this year’s event was held in a television studio, with 22-year-old Keysi Sayago, a mechanical engineer, emerging as the winner.
There was a time when Miss Venezuela was the highlight of the year in Venezuela, and the nation’s most-watched show. The Poliedro de Caracas, a 13,000-seater stadium on the outskirts of the capital, would be packed to capacity, with celebrities, business people and politicians lining up to appear alongside contestants. But no more.
There was also a time when stars of the Spanish-speaking world such as singers Raphael and Camilo Sesto would feature. Not this year: the organizers had to make do with a very limited budget that undoubtedly tested their imagination and capacity for invention.
Speaking to Spanish news agency Efe, Erick Simonato, in charge of the broadcast, admitted that the beauty contest’s organizers had faced a number of challenges “in recent years,” but that this year those challenges had been “particularly” felt. “There are essential items that we simply have not been able to get hold of, such as makeup, adhesive tape, buttons for the girls’ dresses, material…” he said, reeling off a long list.
But despite the challenges, Venezuelans have remained loyal to the contest. Little wonder: the country has won Miss Universe seven times, second only to the United States’ eight wins.
During Thursday’s four-hour show, 15 of the 20 most popular trending topics on Twitter were related to Miss Venezuela. Not even the contest’s fiercest critics can overlook the wider implications of the event in a country that, despite its problems, remains deeply hedonistic.
There was a time when Miss Venezuela was the highlight of the year in Venezuela
Inevitably, the event even reflected the political divide in Venezuela: unsurprisingly, the contestants associated with the country’s opposition, which is pushing for a recall referendum on President Nicolás Maduro, didn’t make it through to the final stages. The two young women representing the states of Varga and Cojedes are the fiancées of Carlos Paparoni and Diego Scharifker, respectively, the former a deputy in Congress and the second a local councilor.
The social networks were abuzz with jokey speculation as to which of the two women might be the next first lady of Venezuela someday. Mariángel Ruiz, the show’s presenter, is also the wife of well-known opposition leader Carlos Ocariz, the mayor of Sucre, a small town close to Caracas.
But crisis or no crisis, opposition or no opposition, all the young ladies aspiring to represent their country in Miss Universe behaved themselves with impeccable restraint in what is still Venezuela’s most special night.
The final of Miss Universe will take place in the Philippines. No date has yet been announced.