Last Thursday, an annual Venezuelan ritual took place. Venezuelans of every social class and all sides of the political spectrum sat down to watch and comment on the Miss Venezuela, the country’s national beauty pageant. As a Venezuelan expatriate, I find it hard to take the whole thing seriously. As an analyst, though, I have to find a way to explain it.
Putting the obvious, snarky comments aside (“We Venezuelans are vain and sexist” would be the knee-jerk explanation), it’s worth pointing out that the pageant is one of the few remaining places where Venezuelans can watch honest competition and hard work play themselves out. Beauty queens go through months of rigorous training, and in the end the competition is deemed fair, with the outcome based (mostly) on merit alone.
This is a rare occurrence in revolutionary Venezuela, since chavismo has done its best to extinguish Venezuelans’ work ethic.
There isn’t an industry or sector in Venezuela that isn’t hampered by overbearing government regulations, whether they are price controls, labor rigidities (as outlined above), or foreign-exchange restrictions. The result is a society that expends most of its energy on schemes for getting rich quick.
Venezuelans waste countless hours looking to take advantage of the opportunities in the country’s dual exchange-rate system. By traveling overseas, they can access cheap dollars they can then sell at seven times their value in the black market. This practice, colloquially known as the “raspaíto,” has become one of the main growth industries in Venezuela. Everyone, from the country’s millions of informal street vendors to the businessmen making billions off juicy government contracts to provide electrical plants, seems to be exploiting opportunities to seek arbitrage that have flourished under the government’s policies.
My editors at Foreign Policy were very thankful for the excuse to put beauty queens on their blog. I told them I was pretty sure all beauty queens read Foreign Policy – how else will they be able to answer the questions about wars and world peace?
On a very similar take on our country’s obsession with beauty, take a look at Patrick Meinhardt’s photo essay. It’s quite the indictment.