Venezuelan wins T&T pageant, Trinidadians object

Former FIFA executive Jack Warner.
Former FIFA executive, Jack Warner.
Associated Press/Shirley Bahadur, file

A very interesting situation is playing out in Trinidad and it has all the hallmarks of insularity, nationalism and parochialism. A strikingly beautiful Venezuelan migrant who left her economically rundown homeland years ago to settle in neighboring Trinidad has not only won a beauty contest on the island but the right to represent the twin-island republic with Tobago at the global edition and this is causing national derision.

Last Sunday, three judges, including former Security Minister and ex-FIFA Vice President Jack Warner, voted for Mileidy Materano as the winner of the Miss Grand T&T contest, paving the way for her to represent the country at the Miss Grand International pageant in Vietnam on Oct. 25.

Her victory has not only divided this nation of 1.3 million people but the issue has even reached the ears of Prime Minister Keith Rowley and he is being asked by several prominent citizens including former Culture Minister Winston “Gypsy” Peters to do all in his powers to prevent the Venezuelan from representing Trinidad internationally. Peters is the chair of the carnival commission and clearly has some influence. Rowley said he has his thoughts on the matter but prefered to remain quiet.

Until last Sunday, most Trinidadians had not even heard about the Ms. Grand contest, founded back in 2013 by a Thai television host and producer named Nawat Itsargagrisil to promote global peace. Contestants for dozens of nations will send representatives to the event that also aims to highlight humanitarian issues including human rights. Materano left Venezuela six years ago and is the owner of a local beauty shop in T&T.

“This cannot happen,” Peters told Guardian. “I am emotionally disturbed as he also asked Foreign Minister Amery Browne to intervene. “This is not a trivial thing, you know, some little competition that they have in Port-of-Spain where mister John Doe gives some, this is something that is going out of this country and taking my country’s name with them. That cannot happen.  In order to represent a country, it has to be sanctioned, first of all by the country, and it has to be that the person representing your country has to have some local, some legal standing, not really a resident but you could be a foreigner but you must be a citizen of the country because once you become a citizen of a country you become part of that country,” he argued.

Social media pundits have declared war on Ms. Materano, but she has struck back with some grace and poise, telling the Express that she wants to repay Trinidad for allowing her to settle and thrive and for the warm reception she has received since living there. A few have defended her as the uncontested winner of the pageant.

“Trinidad is my home. I am happy to have been accepted with open arms and I have fallen in love with the warmth of its people. That is the Trinidad I wish to show the world, starting in Vietnam,” she said. “I wish to use this platform to show the world what we represent.”

For his part, Jack Warner says that he too has had his reservations. “I do not believe that a foreigner could represent the country but I was part of a team and I subscribe to what they agreed upon. It is what it is,” he said, noting that he had expressed reservations to other judges. He also dispels rumors that she was the favorite of the panel. “This is totally false.”

So far, the cabinet has stayed away from the issue. Stolen Productions Limited has said it is standing by its client all the way even as controversy rages on the island.