Just two weeks after she beat out 87 other beauty queens from around the world, Colombia’s 22-year-old Paulina Vega may find herself in a bigger role than just Miss Universe. She has found herself in the unique position to be the first beauty-pageant participant, save for Sandra Bullock in Miss Congeniality, to deliver on the most common answer to what is the one most important thing our society needs—world peace.
Vega offered to help end her country’s 50-year-old civil war between the left-wing Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) rebel group after she donned the crown on Jan. 25. During interviews after her big win, she told the media that “she would be willing to go to Havana so that a peace deal can be signed.”
What expertise might the young business major offer in ending the world’s longest running armed conflict, which has run up a death toll in the hundreds of thousands, internal displacement of nearly six million, and decades of rampant kidnapping and drug trafficking?
Vega’s offer gathered more attention after FARC rebels addressed her offer in a Feb. 6 letter from the peace talks in Cuba. FARC leadership invited her to play a role in the peace process, writing “We acknowledge your willingness to travel to Havana and we invite you make that [visit].” How much of a role she might play is unclear. While the language in the letter is vague, it does say FARC wants to “address her questions and offer her opinions as a valuable contribution toward peace.”
Could this be a sign of FARC’s desperation, a distraction, or just another bizarre development in the negotiations?
War-weary Colombians are skeptical. “It’s a really strange request,” said Ana Marcela Botero, a 23-year-old architect from Pereira. “It’s funny and also ridiculous that Colombians and the media are giving attention to this.” Her friend, 24-year-old Ana Zornosa from Bogotá, added that she does not “understand why they don’t hire someone who is an actual professional instead. It’s a bad idea to take someone who won a beauty contest mostly for being pretty to discuss a really important situation. But who knows, maybe it could bring more worldwide attention to the issue.”
The Colombian government and the FARC are in their fourth formal attempt to make a deal to end the conflict. Representatives have been negotiating since November 2012 and have already agreed to three of five pillars to end the conflict, but talks stalled over “transitional justice” or reparations for war victims, how to demobilize and reintegrate the FARC guerrillas back into society, and how these solutions will be implemented. Ben Hockman, a senior security risk consultant in Colombia, is “pretty confident that they will reach agreement on all five of them before long.”
“There are some major security, political, social, and economical challenges to the implementation of the various aspects of the peace arrangements and that for me is the key question and challenge for Colombia moving forward,” he said.
So far, Vega has not responded to FARC’s formal invitation.
If she does accept, what could she offer that former Colombian Vice President Humberto de la Calle or the FARC leaders could not? Bogotá native David Carvajal says that “the FARC may use Vega’s newfound popularity in Colombia as a way to influence popular Colombian opinion on the peace process.” He added that “whether she is well informed or not is hardly important, but she could unintentionally play some role in the negotiations after all.”
As Carvajal alluded, maybe the FARC is on to something with their invitation. Could this be a smart PR move? In just a few days, it has given the peace process newfound international media attention that could encourage both sides to move ahead and break the deadlock.