Managua (AFP): Nicaraguan authorities have barred the director of the national beauty pageant from re-entering the country after a Nicaraguan woman seen as a symbol of opposition to the government was crowned Miss Universe, media reports and exiled opposition members said.
Karen Celebertti and her daughter were detained upon their arrival at the Managua airport — days after seeing 23-year-old Sheynnis Palacios crowned as the first Miss Universe from Nicaragua — and placed on a flight to Mexico, the opposition-linked La Prensa newspaper reported.
The government “blocked Karen Celebertti, owner of the Miss Nicaragua franchise, and her daughter from entering the country,” the Costa Rica-based Nicaraguan daily said on its web site.
It was unclear on what grounds Celebertti, a Nicaraguan national, was barred entry. The government has made no comment on the matter.
The writer Gioconda Belli, who lives in Spain after being stripped of her Nicaraguan nationality by the government, contended that Celebertti was blocked at the orders of President Daniel Ortega’s wife, Vice President Rosario Murillo, despite her success in helping a Nicaraguan win the prestigious contest.
Opposition media also reported that Celebertti’s Managua home had been searched Friday and her husband, Martin Arguello, briefly detained.
In a statement to AFP, the Miss Universe Organization called on the Nicaraguan government to “guarantee” the safety of those associated with the local affiliates of the pageant.
“We are working to guarantee the safety of all members of the organization, and we call on the government of Nicaragua to guarantee their safety,” it said.
Since Palacios was crowned Miss Universe on November 18 in San Salvador, she has been widely portrayed as a symbol of opposition to Ortega.
Photos showing her waving the Nicaraguan flag at anti-government protests in 2018 have gone viral, and her victory brought joyful crowds into Nicaragua’s streets in the biggest public displays since such gatherings were banned five years ago.
Murillo on Wednesday blasted the publication of such photos as “malicious (and) terrorist communications that aim to transform a beautiful moment of pride and well-deserved celebration into a destructive coup.”
The Nicaraguan opposition has portrayed Palacios’ victory as a sign of hope. Some in the celebratory crowds waved the blue and white national flag, seen as a symbol of opposition, unlike the partisan red and black flag of the ruling Sandinista Front.
“I’m so happy to see the joy of Nicaraguans and to see them bring out the clandestine blue and white… Thanks to Sheynnis,” the writer Belli said on X, the former Twitter.
– ‘National symbol’ –
Opposition sources said that on Tuesday, government officials barred two artists from completing a mural of the new Miss Universe in the northern city of Esteli. Photos of the unfinished fresco have circulated on social media.
“It is impossible to view this inoffensive contest without considering the political and social reality. She has become a national and emotional symbol who has restored hope. And the government understands this,” prize-winning Nicaraguan journalist Wilfredo Miranda, who lives in exile in Costa Rica, told AFP.
Many exiles even viewed the outfit in which Palacios was crowned — a flowing white dress with a blue cape resembling images of Nicaragua’s patron saint, the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception — as symbolic amid a government crackdown on the Catholic Church.
“Thank you for bringing joy to our suffering people, thank you for giving us hope,” Monsignor Silvio Baez, the auxiliary bishop of Managua, wrote on X. He lives in exile in the United States.
A government clampdown on the 2018 protests left more than 350 dead and more than 100,000 in exile. The government has since jailed hundreds of critics.
– ‘Miss Fritters’ –
Palacios rose from a modest upbringing in the city of Diriamba, in Carazo department. She, her mother and grandmother started a business selling Nicaraguan sweet fried dough.
Before her victory, a pro-government television presenter had disdainfully nicknamed her “Miss Fritters.” Exiled Nicaraguan media have not forgotten.
Nor have they forgotten that she studied at the Central American University, a Jesuit school closed last August by the government as a “center of terrorism.”
The new Miss Universe, who left El Salvador on a multi-nation tour, has dedicated her victory to the six million Nicaraguans — whether in the country or in exile.