Nicaragua bars pageant head after Ortega critic wins Miss Universe

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By LatAm Reports Editor

The recent victory of Sheynnis Palacios as Miss Universe 2023 has sparked political tensions in her native Nicaragua. Nicaraguan national pageant director Karen Celebertti and her daughter were denied entry into the country on November 23. Upon their arrival at the Augusto C. Sandino International Airport in Managua, following their participation in Miss Universe activities in Mexico, they were forced to return to Mexico.

Gioconda Belli, a writer exiled from Nicaragua due to her criticism of President Daniel Ortega, alleged that Vice President Rosario Murillo, Ortega’s wife, was responsible for barring Celebertti. Furthermore, opposition media reported that Celebertti’s home in Managua was searched and her husband was briefly detained on November 24.

The Miss Universe Organization has expressed concern over the safety of its members and has urged the Nicaraguan government to ensure their protection, as stated in a communication with Agence France-Presse. However, the Nicaraguan government has not yet commented on the situation involving Celebertti.

Palacios’ triumph in the Miss Universe pageant is viewed by many Nicaraguans as a symbolic act of defiance against the current administration. Images of Palacios participating in anti-government protests in 2018 have been circulating widely. Vice President Murillo criticized these photos on November 22, labeling them as “malicious” and “terrorist communications” intended to mar a moment of national pride.

Significantly, Palacios’ choice of a blue and white evening gown during the coronation night held additional symbolic value. In Nicaragua, these colors represent the national flag and are associated with the opposition, in contrast to the red and black flag of the Sandinista National Liberation Front led by President Ortega.

In a related incident, two artists in the city of Esteli were reportedly stopped by officials from completing a mural of Palacios on November 21. Pictures of the unfinished mural have become popular online.

Exiled Nicaraguan journalist Wilfredo Miranda commented on the situation, highlighting Palacios’ emergence as a national symbol that has reignited hope amidst the country’s political and social challenges.

Palacios was crowned Miss Universe 2023 on November 19 in El Salvador, outperforming 83 other candidates. Her win marks the first time a representative from Nicaragua has claimed the Miss Universe title, succeeding R’Bonney Gabriel of the USA.