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Nicaragua rejoiced at its first Miss Universe title. Then the political fighting began

Miss Nicaragua Sheynnis Palacios
Miss Nicaragua Sheynnis Palacios reacts after being crowned Miss Universe on Saturday at the pageant in El Salvador.
(Moises Castillo / Associated Press)
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Nicaragua’s increasingly isolated and repressive government thought it had scored a rare public relations victory last week when Miss Nicaragua Sheynnis Palacios won the Miss Universe competition.

But the “legitimate joy and pride” President Daniel Ortega’s government expressed in a statement Sunday after the pageant win quickly turned to angry condemnation when it emerged that Palacios had graduated from a college at the center of 2018 protests against the government — and that she had apparently participated in marches.

Nicaraguans — who are largely forbidden to protest or carry the national flag in marches — took advantage of Palacios’ win Saturday night as a rare opportunity to celebrate in the streets.

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Their use of the blue-and-white national flag, as opposed to Ortega’s red-and-black Sandinista banner, didn’t sit well with the government.

Palacios’ victory — and the photos she posted on Facebook in 2018 of herself participating in the protests — overjoyed Nicaragua’s opposition.

Silvio Báez, who is among the Roman Catholic priests who have been jailed or gone into exile, congratulated Palacios on his social media accounts.

With virtually no independent journalists left inside and foreign reporters banned from entering, Nicaragua has become ‘an information black hole.’

Aug. 11, 2022

“Thank you for bringing joy to our long-suffering country!” he wrote. “Thank you for giving us hope for a better future for our beautiful country!”

Vice President and First Lady Rosario Murillo lashed out Wednesday at opposition social media sites — many run from exile — that celebrated Palacios’ win as
a victory for the opposition.

“In these days of a new victory, we are seeing the evil, terrorist commentators making a clumsy and insulting attempt to turn what should be a beautiful and well-deserved moment of pride into destructive coup-mongering,” Murillo said.

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Thousands of Nicaraguans have fled into exile since security forces violently put down the 2018 mass anti-government protests.

The U.S. State Department is calling Nicaragua’s formal withdrawal from the Organization of American States ‘another step away from democracy.’

Nov. 20, 2023

Ortega called the protests an attempted coup with foreign backing.

His government seized and closed the Jesuits’ University of Central America in Managua, which was a hub for the protests, along with at least 26 other universities in Nicaragua.

The government has also outlawed or shut down more than 3,000 civic groups and nongovernmental organizations, and has arrested and expelled opponents, stripping them of their citizenship and confiscating their assets.

Palacios, who became the first Nicaraguan and first Central American to win the Miss Universe title, has not commented on the situation.

During the pageant, Palacios, 23, said she wanted to promote mental health, having suffered debilitating bouts of anxiety herself. She also said she wanted to work to close the gender salary gap so that women could work for fair pay in any sector.

U.S. officials said dozens of political prisoners who had been jailed in Nicaragua are headed to Washington after a negotiated release.

Feb. 9, 2023

But on a since-deleted Facebook account under her name, posts saying she had initially been afraid of participating showed photos of her at a protest.

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“I didn’t know whether to go,” a post read. “I was afraid of what might happen.”

Some who attended the march that day recall seeing the tall, striking Palacios there.

The protests were quickly put down; human rights officials say government forces killed 355 people.

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