Colombia's Paulina Vega is crowned Miss Universe — but should Miss Jamaica have won?
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Colombia's Paulina Vega is crowned Miss Universe — but should Miss Jamaica have won?

Last night, the Miss Universe crown was awarded to the reigning beauty queen of Colombia, continuing the last decade’s Latin America domination of the all-important international realm of beauty pageants, and stirring up some Caribbean controversy in the process.

Miss Colombia Paulina Vega Dieppa, a 22-year-old business administration student, was crowned Miss Universe during Sunday night’s grand finale in Miami, beating out first runner-up Miss USA Nia Sanchez and other top finalists from Jamaica, the Netherlands and Ukraine.

“It will be a dream come true to represent the woman of today,” Vega said in an AP interview earlier this week. “A woman that not only cares about being beautiful and being glamorous, but also cares about being a professional, intelligent, hard-working person.”

Perennial favorite Venezuela, whose Gabriela Isler won the title of Miss Universe 2014, did not make it into the top five — a shortcoming that is sure to cause much soul-searching in a country that prides itself on its beauty queens.

This year’s Miss Venezuela, Migbelis Castellanos, was cut after the top ten, despite heavy local support from the large Venezuelan population in the Miami suburb of Doral, where the competition was held. Castellanos had also drawn heavy criticism in Venezuela for allegedly gaining weight after being crowned Miss Venezuela in 2014.

Vega’s win, however, was not without other controversy. In fact, there were audible boos throughout the room when the Colombian contestant’s name was announced — not because there was a strong anti-Colombian contingent in attendance, but because many in the audience felt that Miss Jamaica, Kaci Fennell, should have taken the crown.

Fans of Fennell took to social media after the show to defend and argue in favor of her, spawning the trending hashtag #MissJamaicaShouldHaveWon.

Many fans seemed to feel that the Caribbean queen was shunned for her non-traditional pixie haircut, which stood out in a sea of generic long wavy tresses, and her answers to the dreaded interview section, in which she named singer Bob Marley and Olympic track star Usain Bolt as her country’s greatest contributions to the world.

Others pointed toward the competition’s poor track record for crowning black women — in the 62 years of Miss Universe pageants, only four black women have ever won the title.

“I don’t have long tresses like everyone else. I’m just representing myself, and that’s what beauty pageants are all about,” said Fennell of her personal style. “You don’t have to look a certain way … and I feel like I represent that.”

Yet despite Colombia’s fame for above-average genetics, this was only the second Miss Universe victory for the South American nation. Colombia’s last win came 57 years ago, when 19-year-old Luz Marina Zuluaga took the 1958 title.

Celebrations erupted across the country on Sunday night after Vega was crowned, and nowhere were they more raucous than in her hometown of Barranquilla, also the birthplace of singer Shakira and actress Sofia Vergara. Hundreds of locals poured into the streets of the Caribbean city, honking car horns and waving Colombian flags to celebrate their hometown victory. Many Barranquilla residents described the festivitie as an early start to the city’s Carnaval, which takes place in February and is the country’s largest.

The governor of the Atlántico province, where Barranquilla is located, issued a statement thanking Vega for “representing the country’s women in the best way possible,” while Barranquilla mayor Elsa Noguera congratulated the new queen on Twitter.

Even the Colombian president, Juan Manuel Santos, currently on an official visit to France, took a moment to mark the occasion, tweeting “The most beautiful woman in the world, @PaulinaVegaDiep, said it: Today Colombia is an example for the world. Congratulations #MissUniverse2015!!”

As the reigning Miss Universe, Vega will receive an undisclosed salary, an in New York, a wardrobe and beauty products, and a one-year scholarship from the New York Film Academy. The first order of business for the world’s new beauty queen, however, is sure to be a trip back to Barranquilla, to join her city for what will likely be one of the biggest Carnaval celebrations ever.

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