Nicaragua’s Miss Universe Victory Highlights Political Divide

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By LatAm Reports Editor

The recent victory of Miss Nicaragua Sheynnis Palacios in the Miss Universe competition has unintentionally highlighted Nicaragua’s deep political rifts. The Nicaraguan government, led by President Daniel Ortega and facing increasing isolation and accusations of repression, initially saw Palacios’ win as a positive public relations moment. However, the mood shifted when it was revealed that Palacios was a graduate of the Jesuit University of Central America, a focal point of the anti-government protests in 2018, and had apparently participated in these protests.

Nicaraguans, who face restrictions on protests and the use of the national flag, seized the opportunity to celebrate Palacios’ triumph, displaying the blue-and-white national flag instead of the government’s red-and-black Sandinista banner. This act of defiance was not well-received by the government. The opposition, meanwhile, was elated by Palacios’ victory, especially in light of her past involvement in the protests, as evidenced by her Facebook posts from 2018.

Vice President and First Lady Rosario Murillo, known for her forceful rhetoric, harshly criticized opposition social media platforms, accusing them of attempting to transform a moment of national pride into anti-government sentiment. Her comments came against the backdrop of a broader crackdown by the Ortega government, which has led to the closure of over 26 universities, including the Jesuit University of Central America, the outlawing of more than 3,000 civic groups and NGOs, and the arrest and expulsion of government critics.

Palacios, 23, who has not publicly commented on the political implications of her win, expressed during the Miss Universe contest her desire to promote mental health and gender pay equality. However, her now-deleted Facebook account showed her participation in the 2018 protests, marking her as an unintentional symbol of opposition to the Ortega regime. This victory and the subsequent public reaction underscore the ongoing tensions in Nicaragua, where human rights officials report that 355 people were killed by government forces during the quashed protests.