A Venezuelan court suspended the upcoming “Miss Venezuela” beauty pageant on Monday after the winner of last year’s contest launched a legal case against the competition’s organizers.
Veruska Betania Ljubisavljevic Rodriguez, the winner of the Miss World Venezuela 2017 competition, was due to represent her country at Miss World 2018 in China this December. However, the contest organizers were forced to restructure the competition and select a new beauty queen to represent the country following allegations of prostitution and corruption, leading Rodriguez to mount a legal case against its organizers.
“I am actively fighting for my rights as a woman and a Venezuelan, and ask that I be given back my right to represent Venezuela at the next Miss World pageant,” she said in a statement.
On Monday, the contest’s organizers confirmed that the court successfully suspended the pageant and it was now their duty to comply.
“The Miss Venezuela Organization does not share or agree with this decision, but it is our duty to comply with it,” the organizing committee wrote in an Instagram post. “We ratify that all our actions are in accordance with the law and the contracts signed … for now and to our great regret we have decided not to make the official presentation of the candidates.”
“Through our legal team will prove to the Judge of that court all our justifying arguments so their fears so over these false claims are disproved,” they continued, adding that they “reserve the right to exercise the corresponding actions to claim all damages such measure causes us.”
Beauty pageants are a time-honored tradition in Venezuela, sometimes described as a national sport for the fervor that the nation exhibits over the competitions. The high interest in beauty competitions used to fuel a million-dollar plastic surgery industry before the collapse of Venezuela’s healthcare system under socialism. Even today, cosmetic surgery remains one of the few medical industries partially functional in the country.
Miss Venezuela is the most important of Venezuela’s many beauty pageants, having produced seven winners of Miss Universe and six winners of Miss World, while many other participants go into careers in film, modeling, or media. The contest is now considered controversial for its promotion of “beauty factories,” where girls as young as five are taught everything from how to put on makeup to staying the “correct” weight.
Last year, the competition was also forced to change its code of ethics following a scandal where former participants accused each other of receiving money and other benefits from politicians and businessmen in exchange for sexual favors, leading to the resignation of the franchise’s former president, Osmel Sousa, after 37 years in charge.
Sousa, a 71-year-old Cuban Venezuelan known as “The Tsar of Beauty” was also ousted as the host of the Univision television show Our Latin Beauty, a beauty pageant reality competition, due to “editorial differences” he and the show’s producers had after the revelation of the charges.
In recent years, the competition has also drawn criticism amid Venezuela’s catastrophic economic crisis under socialist dictator Nicolás Maduro, which has left millions of people in dire poverty and in desperate need of humanitarian assistance. As such, thousands of people are now fleeing the country every day to escape chronic shortages of food, medicine, and other basic living resources in what has become one of the world’s most pressing migration crises.