Foto: El Colombiano.

One of the most talked-about cases is that of Miss Universe, Sheynnis Palacios. Her story reflects the political and social challenges facing Nicaragua.


When Sheynnis Palacios, only 23 years old, won the crown as the most beautiful woman in the world on November 18, 2023, after competing with more than 80 candidates, she was already one of those singled out by the president of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega, who politicized the beauty pageant and presented it as a supposed coup d’état.

Sheynnis, who now lives in her apartment in New York, graduated from the Central American University where she obtained a bachelor’s degree in mass communication; she was Miss Teen Nicaragua in 2016 and, four years later, Miss World Nicaragua, which allowed her to participate in the 72nd edition of the international beauty contest Miss Universe, held in San Salvador, the capital of El Salvador.

The crown worn by Sheynnis Palacios, the most expensive in the history of Miss Universe – valued at 5.3 million dollars, with carats of blue sapphires, carats of white diamonds, and a blue sapphire – and which allowed Nicaragua to obtain this title for the first time, revived the political conflict in this Central American country and highlighted a country with thousands of exiles.

Despite Nicaraguans waving the flag of their country in the streets, in the face of Sheynnis’ victory as the new Miss Universe, and the regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo congratulating her victory in a brief statement they did not sign, the universal queen moved to New York.

According to the Nicaragua Never Again Human Rights Collective, at least 605,043 Nicaraguans have left the country in the last 62 months, which accounts for 9% of the total population, due to state repression against opposition members, journalists, religious figures, and government critics of Daniel Ortega.

In a report released by this Nicaraguan NGO, it asserts that the crisis Nicaragua has been experiencing since April 2018 has caused the largest exodus in its history, surpassing even that of the 1980s, when the country was embroiled in a civil war that left tens of thousands dead.

Nicaragua: Repression, exile, and censorship

But the challenges faced by Sheynnis Palacios, the exiled Miss Universe, do not end there. The dictatorship of Daniel Ortega is closely monitoring those involved in cultural expressions, to the extent of prohibiting the painting of a mural featuring the Miss’s face by artists Vink Art and Torch Místico, on a street in the northern city of Estelí.

In addition to this, the national director of the Miss Universe competition in Nicaragua, Karen Celebertti, was prohibited from returning to the country along with her daughter, and their home was raided days after the young Sheynnis Palacios won the crown in El Salvador in November 2023. They had to seek exile in Mexico.

Miss Universo
Sheynnis Palacios and Karen Celebertti. Photo: Taken from social media.

According to a report by Confidencial, the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega keeps 222 political prisoners and 12 conscientious objector priests in exile, as well as more than 130 political prisoners in Nicaragua.

Among these 130 political prisoners, there are sixty individuals who remain under de facto «house arrest» or «city arrest,» compelled to sign daily, weekly, or bi-weekly in assigned police stations, following a raid executed in May by the Police, in coordination with the Public Ministry and the Judiciary.

However, human rights organizations acknowledge there is underreporting because many fear reprisals for reporting. The number of political prisoners, they estimate, could be as high as two hundred.

Read: Opponents extermination and expulsion: The harsh reality of Nicaragua

Miss Universe under scrutiny

Nicaraguan Sheynnis Palacios, the new Miss Universe in November 2023, has not gone unnoticed by the government of Daniel Ortega, as the young woman participated in the 2018 protests against the president five years ago, which left more than 300 dead and were denounced as an attempted coup supported by Washington.

Sheynnis stands out as a mental health activist, audiovisual producer, and pet protector. In an opinion delivered to DW Germany, sociologist Elvira Cuadra, director of the Center for Transdisciplinary Studies of Central America, fears that the government sees Sheynnis as an «adversary» considering her participation in the 2018 protests.

«Considering the attitude and sympathy of the people towards Sheynnis, it is possible that, later on, the government will retaliate against her,» warns Elvira Cuadra.

But despite Miss Universe being seen as an adversary to the dictatorship, on November 22, 2023, Vice President Rosario Murillo criticized in a statement the «gross exploitation, and the crude and evil terrorist communication, which seeks to turn a beautiful and deserved moment of pride and celebration into destructive coupism,» referring to the opponents who use the beauty queen as a figure of protest.

Behind the Crown

In another interview with DW, Nicaraguan singer-songwriter and poet Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy did not rule out the possibility that the Ortega regime «wants to use this impressive global achievement for its own interests.»

«This victory belongs to no one but Sheynnis and her people. She now represents not only the Nicaraguan people but also Central America and the entire world. She has clearly stated that she will continue to fight for women’s rights, equality, and social changes,» said Luis Enrique to the German network, as he is in exile in Costa Rica.

From there, he added: «The celebration for the beauty title has managed to mobilize our people again and break the silence imposed by the Ortega-Murillo dictatorship. Without a doubt, it is a breath of fresh air and oxygenation for the lives of Nicaraguans inside and outside our territory.»

Not only Sheynnis is under scrutiny, but accusations have been launched against the director of the Miss Nicaragua organization, Karen Celebertti, who is in exile, and against her husband, Martín Argüello Leiva, and her son Bernardo Argüello Celebertti, who have been kidnapped and disappeared.

They, along with Sheyniss Palacios, are accused by the Ortega government without any evidence of «conspiracy, treason against the homeland, terrorism, incitement to hatred, organized crime, and money laundering,» among other charges.

Karen Celebertti
The family of Karen Celebertti.

An Exiled Church

Father Fernando Ramón Téllez Báez, from the Archdiocese of Managua, is one of the priests exiled due to persecutions by the Nicaraguan regime, and he carries out his apostolate in the San Rafael Arcángel parish community in Heredia, Costa Rica.

This 63-year-old priest, ordained 31 years ago, and serving as a parish priest at Nuestra Señora de las Américas, fled Nicaragua after police officers threatened to arrest him, stated Martha Patricia Molina, a lawyer and researcher, author of the study ‘Nicaragua: A Persecuted Church?’

The Ortega regime has expelled and imprisoned priests, banned religious activities, suspended diplomatic relations with the Vatican, and prevented 170 priests and 76 nuns from entering or returning to the country.

The release of Nicaraguan religious figures occurred two weeks after Pope Francis, following the Angelus prayer, expressed his «concern» over the detention of Catholic priests in Nicaragua, according to the NGO Institute on Race, Equality, and Human Rights (Race and Equality).

Nicaragua: The Tragic Reality

«At the end of 2023, it was estimated that at least 76 nuns and 170 priests had been exiled, expelled, or prevented from entering Nicaragua,» indicates a report by Race and Equality.

Among these religious figures are 12 priests who were imprisoned by the regime and later exiled to the Vatican in August of last year, as well as the 19 priests and seminarians released and exiled in January 2024, notes the data revealed by this NGO.

On January 14th, the Nicaraguan government announced that it had agreed with the Holy See to «send» to the Vatican the imprisoned Nicaraguan bishops Rolando Álvarez and Isidoro Mora, along with 15 priests and two seminarians who had been deprived of their liberty.

Race and Equality revealed that «in the last three weeks of December 2023, the dictatorial regime of Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo executed an unprecedented raid in which at least 18 members of the Catholic Church were arbitrarily detained.»

Nicaragua without Journalists

According to the Independent Journalists and Communicators Movement of Nicaragua, PCIN, at least 242 communicators have left Nicaragua since 2018 into exile due to the war that the dictatorship of Daniel Ortega declared on journalism.

Police harassment, imprisonment, and threats forced these Nicaraguan communicators into exile, and the few who remain are forced to work clandestinely.

Abigail Hernández, a journalist and member of PCIN, asserts that there are few journalists left in Nicaragua. And those who remain, work clandestinely.

At least 22 Nicaraguan journalists have been declared «traitors to the homeland» and stripped of their nationality, according to PCIN’s accounts.

Seven journalists who the Daniel Ortega regime held in prison were exiled on February 9, 2023, along with another 115 political prisoners.

Abigail Hernández acknowledges that repression has already caused an «informational silence,» mainly in the Caribbean and northern regions of the country.

«The greatest terror of the Sandinista regime is what happened during the protests from 2018 to 2020, when there were still some pickets and peaceful citizen actions. Many of the journalists who are now in exile and those who are working clandestinely in Nicaragua spoke with torture victims, went to areas where paramilitary and police forces did terrible things,» says Abigail.

The Fact

Nicaragua has been in crisis since April 2018, which has intensified since the November 2021 elections, in which Ortega was re-elected for a fifth term, fourth consecutive, and second alongside his wife, Rosario Murillo, as vice president, with their main contenders in prison.


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