The newly crowned Miss Universe 2023, Nicaraguan Sheynnis Palacios Cornejo, said Saturday night during a brief press conference that the crown she won "is dedicated" to the Nicaraguan people, with whom she shared: "We did it, we made history." Meanwhile, in Nicaragua, thousands of citizens took to the streets to celebrate and wave the nation's blue and white flag.
"This crown is dedicated to girls all over the world, to my inner child, to my family and to the more than six million inhabitants of my country," said the 23-year-old Central American.
Palacios added, "I want to tell all Nicaraguans who are watching me: We did it, we made history…. [M]y country is going to change and many doors are going to open."
She said she was "very happy" to be "the first woman to be Miss Universe from Nicaragua."
"This story is just beginning and will bring great changes for women and girls who are the building blocks of our society," said Palacios as she thanked "life and God for the opportunity."
"My life has changed and so have the lives of many girls through my voice," she said.
Nicaraguans celebrate at home and abroad
The euphoria generated by the beauty pageant began hours before she was crowned. Nicaraguans had gathered in their homes, shopping malls, restaurants, and bars to enjoy the pageant.
In the capital, Nicaraguans began lighting firecrackers when the beauty queen reached the top 10, and the celebration increased when Nicaragua entered, for the first time, the top five finalists. Never before had the country been so close to the crown.
Euphoria overflowed when Sheyniss Palacios was crowned Miss Universe 2023. Thousands of people took to the streets and public spaces to celebrate and wave the blue and white national flag–actions that have been criminalized by the dictatorship as part of a repressive policy of annihilation of any opposition movement. The national flag became a symbol of civic protest and unity against Daniel Ortega and Rosario Murillo.
Several vehicular caravans traveled through the main avenues of Managua, Diriamba, Jinotega, Matagalpa, and other cities of the country. Citizens shouted Sheynnis' name, honked their horns, and sang popular songs.
Others gathered in the streets and in parking lots, traffic circles and commercial plazas, dancing to the rhythm of "Viva Nicaragua," percussion bands, chants, firecrackers, and even, in some places, to the rhythm of church bells.
Nicaraguans in other countries also celebrated Sheynnis Palacios' crown. Social media was flooded with photos and videos of Nicaraguans dancing and singing.
Dictatorship's media outlets drop their taunts
The sheer joy of the population could not be ignored by the dictatorship, which sent the secretary general of the Mayor's Office of Managua, Fidel Moreno, along with police officers, to "congratulate" the family of the new Miss Universe. The same happened with its propaganda media, which days before had mocked the pageant contestant, but now celebrated the crown coming to Nicaragua.
It had been reported that the dictatorship had issued an order to not allow the return of Sheynnis Palacios to Nicaragua. However, in the face of the triumph of the young woman who had participated in the 2018 civic protests against Ortega and Murillo, they recanted.
"Nicaragua celebrates with legitimate pride and joy the crowning of its beautiful representative, Sheynnis Palacios Cornejo, as Miss Universe," said the Sandinista government in a press release issued in Managua.
In their statement, they say they join "the deserved elation" of the Nicaraguan beauty, her family, the people of Nicaragua, and the celebration of Central America that for the first time, that throne of beauty and talent of our women and our hard-working and humble communities belongs to our region."
Sheynnis Palacios revealed that her biggest challenge throughout the competition were her anxiety attacks, "I suffer from anxiety attacks and I say it openly," she said. "I suffered an anxiety attack backstage, but I was able to handle it," she said.
The representative of Nicaragua became, on Saturday night, the first Central American ever to win the Miss Universe contest. Its 72nd annual pageant was held in El Salvador.
The winner of the pageant succeeds Miss Universe 2022, R'Bonney Gabriel, from the United States.
Sheynnis Palacios admires Mary Wollstonecraft
During the question period, Palacio said that one woman in whose place she would like to be for one day is Mary Wollstonecraft, the English writer and philosopher, and one of the first women to develop feminist thought, because "she is the first woman who broke ground for women's rights."
Palacios also stated that she would "do her best to turn the wage gaps of that time (1756) into the perfect opportunity for many women to be able to work in any field…. There are no limits for women. We can, and we have the capabilities," she added, receiving a standing ovation from the audience.
Born on May 30, 2000, Palacios has a degree in Social Communication from the Jesuit Central American University (UCA), where she also played volleyball. She is the host and presenter of the TV program "Understand your mind," a social project she launched after battling her own anxiety and which seeks to help others by addressing different mental health issues.
*With information from EFE.