Miss Universe to take place in Miami, where politics is liable to tangle with beauty queens



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DORAL, Florida — In the world of beauty pageants, Venezuela is queen.

Three of the last six Miss Universe titles have gone to Venezuelan contestants. An entire industry exists in Venezuela to prepare young women to compete.

Donald Trump's announcement Thursday that the upcoming Miss Universe pageant will be in Miami, home to the largest Venezuelan population in the United States, however, could add a dose of politics to the pageantry.

The majority of Venezuelans in Florida fiercely oppose the Venezuelan government. In the past, current Miss Venezuela Migbelis Castellanos has been scrutinized by the opposition for some of her viewpoints.

After tweets surfaced in 2013 lamenting the death of the late President Hugo Chavez, one Florida paper proclaimed she was a "Miss Venezuela with a Chavista heart."

Venezuelans in Florida said they don't have any plans to protest, and Castellanos has distanced herself from any other overtly political statements. But with the pageant taking place in Miami, the subject is almost certain to surface.

"Venezuelans in Miami will question her," said Patricia Andrade, human rights director for the Venezuelan Awareness Foundation, a nonprofit organization. "Remember, this is a community of exiles. There is a lot of pain from having had to leave our country."

Beauty pageants carry enormous significance in Venezuela. In addition to seven Miss Universe titles, the country is a six-time winner of the Miss World competition. When beauty pageants air, eyes are glued to televisions across the nation. Streets go quiet.

"It's something we are very proud of, as Venezuelans," Andrade said.

Venezuelan Gabriela Isler won last year's Miss Universe title and was present Thursday at the Trump National luxury hotel and golf course to make the announcement. The pageant and coronation itself will take place at Florida International University, but a number of the surrounding activities will take place at the hotel and throughout Doral, known in Miami as "Doralzuela" for its many Venezuelan residents.

"Every time I come here I feel at home," Isler said.

Isler herself was questioned about a tweet she purportedly made, complaining about coming home to a house without electricity after a long day's work and blaming Chavez, before winning the title. She has from time to time chimed in on events in Venezuela during her reign, including participating in the #Misses4Peace social media campaign, calling for peace in the wake of violent protests in Venezuela earlier this year.

Castellanos participated in that campaign as well, posing with a piece of paper that had her name, title, and several hashtags calling for peace. The campaign was clear in stating that it was not political.

"It's a beauty contest. It's not about political ideology or who you do or don't' support," Isler said Thursday. "We are representing an entire nation."

She said she felt confident Castellanos would as well.

Ernesto Ackerman, resident of the Independent Venezuelan-American Citizens, a nonprofit group, said Venezuelans in the U.S. are much more preoccupied at the moment with resolving their relatives' immediate needs, like access to food and medicine, than a beauty pageant.

But he said it undoubtedly could strike a nerve.

"If she gives an opinion in favor of Chavez, I am 100 percent certain people will go out and protest," he said.

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