Miss Universe, Oil and Politics: What is going on in Venezuela?

Venezuela has always been known, at least in Latin America and the Caribbean, for its beautiful women and their ability to walk out of beauty pageants as crowned queens. The mixture of races and the plethora of colors available in our country have blessed some of the faces that have won these contests and have marveled jurors for years.

In 1952, the Miss Venezuela beauty contest was created by Panamerican Airways, and after having many owners and designs, it is one of the most famous beauty pageants in the world today. It is feverishly followed by people across Latin America and broadcasted in many other countries around the globe. Venezuela was even included in the Guinness Book of World Records because it’s the only country to win Miss Universe twice in a row.

Our second most popular ‘thing’ is oil. We have one of the largest proven oil reserves in the world (20%), and we come in fifth when talking about exports. At the beginning of our country, the 1910s, Venezuelan Presidents gave concessions to foreign companies to explore and develop the oil industry, since, within the borders of the country, the technology was not advanced enough to produce.

From that point on, oil dominated Venezuela’s economic activities. Similar to what once happened with cocoa and the Royal Guipuzcoan Company of Caracas, repeated itself again with oil. The novelist and historian Francisco Herrera Luque captured the feelings of that time (1728) in his novel Los Amos del Valle (The owners of the Valley) when Spain completely controlled Venezuela’s cocoa production and distribution.

So far, so good. Let’s start talking about politics. State, government, nation, homeland, and people seem to be the same thing in Venezuela. The government has been trying to occupy all possible spaces in order to be considered the only option to look up to; it is the largest employer, it now controls all state instances and owns plenty of the companies that produce and distribute food across the country, and it owns the production and distribution of oil since 1976 (under the administration of President Carlos Andres Perez) through the state-owned oil company PDVSA.

In February 1999, Hugo Chavez took office and used PDVSA’s income to fund social programs, and his popularity skyrocketed inside and outside the country. Venezuela was then known to having beautiful women and Chavez. Oil prices were rising, and more of this money was used to support Chavez’ Socialist project. He won four elections: the first one in 1998, the second one in 2001, the third one in 2006 and the last one in 2012. We were winning Miss Universe and had the highest oil barrel price ever, over 100 dollars per barrel owning more than 180 million barrels in 2012. You do the math; I think this is an incredible sum of money.

Then in 2013, Chavez died. Before dying, he asked the people to vote for Nicolas Maduro. Looking at it plainly, we apparently have been more demanding when it comes to selecting the faces that will go to a beauty contest than choosing our presidents. Maduro’s lack of charisma seems to be the only thing that opens people’s eyes today. After 18 years of wrong choices in politics, a presidential discourse is not enough to cover all the mistakes and problems the country is now facing.

Since 2015, inflation has taken over the whole country. The Central Bank hasn’t published any official inflation numbers to its citizens since December 2015, although it reported a 275% inflation for 2016 to the International Monetary Fund. The IMF said, that the methods to acquire the numbers were not clear and that they thought it was rather going to be 720% for that year alone. Some experts have said that they expect around 650% for 2017.

What does that mean? Well, it depends. It means that today’s dozen of eggs costs 6.000 Bs. (less than a dollar) while in a month, it could be double its price. It also means that watching Miss Venezuela and Miss Universe has become an escape from reality. We still adore our girls, and we still watch beauty contests as if our problems were secondary. We gather at a friend’s house to enjoy the show together, to have that little thrill and laugh in the questions round.

Venezuela’s economy depends almost entirely on oil production, which is owned by the Government. The high level of corruption has made our oil barrels insufficient to satisfy the greed of the powerful ones while feeding the people at the same time. Demonstrations are taking place daily as well as protests that have ended pretty bad: 80 days of protests, 75 people killed (5 of them teenagers) and hundreds either injured or imprisoned.

Nevertheless, there is always hope, and that might be the only reason why some people choose to stay. In the middle of this crisis people still fall in love, get married, babies are born, and recently our football U-20 selection got the runners-up medals for the first time in a world cup. This may seem vain or banal, but in a country where the next day is not granted, people attach to smaller and happier moments. We are already in the process of choosing the ladies that will participate in the contests this year and will later compete in Miss Universe, to use an international crown as a national pain reliever.

About Isabel Matos

Isabel is a Venezuelan translator that struggles to find a voice and to prosper in today’s political turmoil and tension. She is also an undergraduate English teacher and is currently pursuing a Master’s in English as a Foreign Language. Translator, teacher and always student, she is interested in how language shapes reality and how women and men negotiate power through discourse.

All Articles