Two different beauty pageants highlight Columbian income gaps

In Cartagena, Columbia the country's uneven distribution of wealth is put on open display when it hosts its annual beauty pageants.

According to The New York Times, Miss Columbia positions Cartagena as a playground for the global elite with its expensive hotels and boutiques. The dozen or so candidates competing in the pageant are fair skinned and well-traveled, many of them the daughters of prominent families.

Outside Cartagena, in the slums, Miss Independence, a pageant celebrating the city's declaration of independence from Spain in 1811, reflects a slightly different image.

"One pageant portrays Cartagena as its elite wants it to be seen: rich, white and glamorous," said Elisabeth Cunin, a French sociologist who studies Cartagena told The New York Times. "The other reflects the reality of the city as the majority of its inhabitants know it: poor and neglected, a complex mix between racial domination and an emerging current of black consciousness."

Miss Columbia attracts quite a bit of attention for the city, wrote Simon Romero of The New York Times. Paparazzi and gossip columnists flock to the city to cover the event. However, Miss Independence draws just as much notoriety for itself and shop owners on the streets of Caregena shut down their shops, fearful of assaults before a bawdy parade celebrating the event passes through.

Raimundo Angulo, the director of Miss Columbia said he thinks his pageant could improve the lives of the residents by making the city more appealing to outsiders, likening it to Monte Carlo.

"It is democratically elitist," he told The New York Times, speaking of Miss Columbia. "I simply want what is beautiful, wherever it comes from, according to certain principles, certain values."

When asked whether or not he thinks the event may be racist or excluding, Angulo pointed out that an Afro-Colombian had been named Miss Columbia in 2001. This has happened once in the pageant's 76 years of existence.

This year, Miss Independence was Ivonne Palencia, a 19-year-old preschool teacher living in the slum Boston, named after a red-light district once frequented by foreign sailors, reported the Times. Though the smaller local pageant is considered a poor imitation of the national one,it tends to elicit more excitement throughout the streets and slums of Cartagena.

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