By Libardo Cardona
BOGOTA, Colombia — Carnival has come a few weeks early to the Caribbean city of Barranquilla where residents took to the streets on Monday to show their hometown pride after local beauty queen Paulina Vega was crowned Miss Universe.
Even President Juan Manuel Santos took time out during an official visit to France to congratulate Vega for her “historic” title Sunday night in Miami, where the 22-year-old business administration student beat out finalists from the U.S., Jamaica, the Netherlands and Ukraine.
“This demonstrates that in Colombia we have women who are intelligent, hard-working and perseverant in the face of obstacles,” Santos said. “They’re also very pretty.”
Colombians are obsessed with beauty and pageants are a major draw across social classes. But unlike neighboring Venezuela, which has won seven Miss Universe titles, Colombians are accustomed to falling short of the crown, with four runner-up appearances since 1992.
The only other Colombian Miss Universe is 76-year-old Luz Marina Zuluaga, who won the title in 1958. She told The Associated Press that Vega’s honor is long overdue.
“Like everyone else I’m very happy that a Colombian has finally won,” said Zuluaga, recalling how much the pageant had changed in the five decades since she was crowned. Bikinis weren’t yet a feature of the swimsuit competition and preparation for the gala event was almost nil in contrast to the industry of beauty schools, plastic surgeons and diction coaches that have sprouted up to prepare women for competition.
As Miss Universe, Vega will receive an undisclosed salary, a luxury apartment in New York, a wardrobe and oodles of beauty products, and a one-year scholarship from the New York Film Academy.