Sheynnis Palacios, Miss Universe 2023
Sheynnis Palacios, Miss Universe 2023 Courtesy: Miss Universe 2023

Miss Universe Sheynnis Palacios, along with her family, has been driven into an "indefinite exile" by the Nicaraguan regime led by Daniel Ortega, according to Anne Jakrajutatip, the CEO of the Miss Universe organization. She delivered the news in a heartfelt letter published on Mother's Day.

While the Nicaraguan government's decision was a surprise, it wasn't unexpected. The Ortega government vetoed the celebrations after Palacios became the first Miss Nicaragua to ever win the pageant. Last week, the beauty queen's mother, grandmother, and other members of her family left the country.

"You work hard to take care of your mother and the whole family, who are now away from your homeland. You are one of the greatest examples of the butterfly girl with broken wings who never gave in to the bad actions, disrespectful intentions, and cruel intentions of any authoritarian," wrote Jakrajutatip in her letter in apparent allusion to the Ortega government.

A Queen in exile

At just 23 years old, Sheynnis Palacios not only represents beauty and grace on the global stage but also embodies courage and resilience. Before the news from Managua broke, she was promoting a campaign focusing on mental health. Though she has not officially stated that she is in exile, her emotional response to symbols of her homeland, like the Nicaraguan flag, and encounters with fellow countrymen, reveal the deep scars left by her forced departure.

This is not the first time that the Nicaraguan regime has acted against Palacios or her close relatives. Days after her win, the Nicaraguan citizenship of Karen Celebertti, who had led the Miss Nicaragua organization for over 20 years, was revoked, and her husband and son were arrested for several days. The three were charged, among a series of crimes, with treason, conspiracy, organized crime, money laundering, and financing of terrorism.

The circumstances surrounding the Palacios family's exit from Nicaragua came into the public eye when local media reported that Sheynnis's grandmother and brother had covertly fled the country. They managed to enter the United States on humanitarian grounds, reuniting with Sheynnis's mother, who was already residing in California. This family reunion, while a moment of solace, also highlights the broader narrative of fear and suppression that many dissenting voices face under Ortega's regime.

An alternative beauty contest

The Ortega government has introduced its own beauty contest, "Reinas de Nicaragua," seemingly in a bid to maintain control over cultural and national symbols amidst the controversy surrounding the official Miss Nicaragua franchise.

The contest was officially announced by Ortega's wife and vice president, Rosario Murillo, who called it "a beautiful contest for women, beautiful girls," who are "ambassadors of love for Nicaragua" and "of our culture and heritage."

This contest is reminiscent of the 1980s "Miss Juventud" competition, introduced by the governing Sandinista party during the first government led by Daniel Ortega. At that time, after the official Miss Nicaragua contest was banned. It featured candidates exclusively from the Youth Wing of the Sandinista party.

Unlike typical beauty pageants, these events were starkly militarized, with young women parading in a highly controlled environment, flanked by soldiers in camouflage uniforms and carrying Russian AK-47 rifles.

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