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)
Venezuela churns out beauty queens amid crisis
by Jim Heintz and Jorge Rueda
Associated Press Writers
MOSCOW (AP) — A 25-year-old Venezuelan who appears on TV in her country and is an accomplished flamenco dancer is the new Miss Universe.
Gabriela Isler was crowned Saturday night in the pageant at a sprawling exhibition hall on Moscow’s outskirts.
Born in the city of Valencia, 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.
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. (AP Photo/Pavel Golovkin)
In the excitement just after the announcement, the tiara fell off Isler’s head as she was being crowned by Miss Universe 2012, Olivia Culpo of the United States. Isler caught the crown laughing.
Patricia Rodrigues of Spain was the runner-up.
The panel of judges was led by American rock musician Steven Tyler.
Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro congratulated Isler on Twitter, calling her title a “triumph” for Venezuela, a country that has now won three of the last six Miss Universe pageants.
In fact, Venezuela has won more major international beauty competitions than any other nation, and beauty pageants rank alongside baseball as the country’s most-followed diversion, one that transcends social class and normally insurmountable political divisions.
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.”
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.
Venezuela has managed to keep its beauty queen industry flourishing, despite economic problems have worsened in recent weeks as inflation touched a two-decade high of 54 percent and shortages of basic goods like toiled paper and milk have worsened.
Driving the crisis has been a collapse in the currency, which has plunged to a tenth of its official value in illegal black market trading.
To arrest the fall, Maduro last week ordered the military to inspect prices and shut down businesses found to be charging abusive prices. A day after the government seized control of a nationwide chain of appliance stores, doors reopened Saturday to throngs of shoppers seeking to buy TVs, washing machines and refrigerators at a fraction of their listed price.
Associated Press Writer Joshua Goodman contributed to this report from Caracas.